Expect more shipping chaos with the Omicron variant

From sailors refusing to reboard ships to truck drivers whose concerns over COVID-related border closures outweigh the lure of a wage hike, the transportation industry braces for another year of A roller coaster of supply chain disruption.

As Omicron infections increase and governments tighten restrictions, logistics companies around the world, from global giants to small businesses, are not finding enough staff. According to International Road Transport Union, about a fifth of all professional truck driver jobs go unfilled, despite the fact that many employers offer higher wages. Some shipping pockets are also sounding the alarm bells on hiring prospects.

“2022 is shaping up to be another year of serious disruption, under-supply and extreme costs for cargo owners,” said Simon Heaney, analyst at marine research consultancy Drewry. “The virus once again shows it’s in charge,” he said, predicting an additional 12 months of stretched work and healthcare-related paperwork.

As the Omicron variant takes hold, workers delivering goods to ships and trucks bear the brunt of a supply chain infrastructure still mired in chaos. Faced with long weeks of quarantine Combined with the precarious nature of crossing borders and the fear of getting sick, some people refuse contracts while others seek work elsewhere, according to the companies.

In Romania, many truck drivers are unwilling to take on long-haul jobs in other parts of Europe, stung by last year’s 30-mile traffic jams and waits of up to 6 p.m. at the borders of the European Union. Countries with increasing infections are particularly problematic, according to Alex Constantinescu, CEO of Alex Transport International 94 SRL, which operates 130 trucks that deliver pharmaceutical and food products across the continent.

Already facing a shortage of drivers before the pandemic, the labor crisis in the trucking industry has become more acute, he said. The company has had to increase wages by around 30% over the past three years.

“Long hours on the road, sleeping in the cab and now not knowing if the people you are interacting with have the virus – truck driving is not very appealing anymore,” said Constantinescu, who founded the company. 27 years ago. “I look behind me and I don’t see any new generation of drivers. The pandemic has made this job very unattractive. “

In Great Britain, the ranks truck drivers fell 23%, or around 72,000 people, in the second quarter compared to 2019, according to data from Logistics UK. In China, the fear of quarantines keeps drivers away. As recently as last week, the entire western city of Xi’an, with a population of 13 million, entered a instant lock after 127 cases.

“China has very strict policy measures to control outbreaks and this makes truck drivers reluctant to go to certain areas where they could be quarantined,” said Salmon Aidan Lee of energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. . “These tough measures have further contributed to supply chain problems and some polyester factories have had to close.”

The shipping industry faces similar workforce challenges.

Although the crisis which prevented sailors from returning home and being replaced by new sailors has largely eased – less than 5% of sailors were on board ships beyond the expiration of their contracts in mid-November, down from 9% in mid-July, according to the Neptune statement’s crew change indicator – now companies can’t attract them again.

Western Shipping Pte Ltd., a Singapore-based tanker operator, said about 20% of its roughly 1,000 sailors do not want to re-board ships. About 5% of Anglo-Eastern Univan Group’s 30,000 sailors had indicated last month that they were not interested in a new contract.

Western Shipping needs to hire seafarers from other companies and offer them good bonuses to get started, according to managing director Belal Ahmed, who also chairs the International Maritime Employers Council.

Some of those delaying the return to sea are senior crew members, such as senior and tenured officers, said Bjorn Hojgaard, managing director of Anglo-Eastern Univan ship manager.

“Even before COVID, it was difficult to find the right person with the right experience and the right training on a ship,” said Hojgaard, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Shipowners Assn. “Today we have to compromise. It worries me, we are not doing anything good for the safety of the ships.

The shortage could worsen as shipowners and charterers demand that only vaccinated crews be hired. And with Omicron requiring more callbacks, the shortage is intensifying. According to the Neptune Declaration indicator, less than 30% of Indian and Filipino seafarers, among the major seafarer supplier countries, were fully vaccinated by mid-November.

“We cannot force sailors to be vaccinated, but customers are saying they will only use fully vaccinated crews,” said Columbia Shipmanagement Ltd. CEO Mark O’Neil. “It has been a challenge to keep these huge freighters moving. “

Bloomberg writers Jack Wittels, Claire Jiao, and Andreo Calonzo contributed to this report.

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