The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic as a severe global public health issue has created significant ramifications, including the halting of business operations, economic disruption, the threat of a global recession, and logistical complexities. But it has been business unusual for the marine industry – and on the extreme end of unusual.

The pandemic caught the maritime industry off guard. As a result, many countries, including South Africa, had to temporally suspend some port operations, or take unprecedented measures against cruise ships and vessels approaching their ports. As part of the measures implemented in South Africa, many cruise ships have not been allowed to enter ports for embarkation and disembarkation. Of the 72 ports of entry in the country which are land, sea and airports; 35 have been shut down.

“The effects of COVID 19 will create a major ripple effect in the marine industry that will take a long time to recover, as the major sectors largely depend on this industry for the flow and supply of goods,” says Lwandile Mabuza, Managing Director of the Servest Marine division.

“This industry supports international trade, the economy, global value chains and human life, making it vulnerable to communicable diseases like COVID-19, as foreign people, cargo and documentation are integral to the exchange and trade processes.”


Mabuza notes that the short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be largely seen on the commercial side of the marine industry, where the ban of passenger vessels from ports has brought the cruise season to a premature halt.

“There has also been a ban of crew changes in the ports, resulting in the crew working longer periods, a lockdown on some mineral bulk and general cargo operations, which will result in high demand for services and congestion post lockdown. Whilst the transfer services between the airport and the seaports have ceased; the transfer for essential services to the port will continue to operate.

Without a doubt, the impact of COVID-19 on the marine sector has been devasting. In due course, its impact will be measured to fully assess its effects.

“The lasting long-term effects will be the impact on the economies that rely on trade for production, sustenance and employment. We expect higher levels of demand for goods and services, and the limited supply side may result in price shocks and inflation, while business performance will be impacted by the foregone income and inability to produce and trade, which may affect jobs down the line,” explains Mabuza.

Though a hard pill to swallow, initially Servest welcomed the ban of the operations with high levels of exposure such as crew changes and passenger transfers, which involve close interaction between people arriving from foreign countries and the local people. The health of colleagues in the marine sector is crucial. Servest has implemented increased standards of protective measures, which includes wearing full PPE, sanitising operating equipment, cargo, vehicles, and using technology instead of physical exchange of documentation to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID 19,” explains Mabuza.