Business as usual - well sort of!
Just a few short weeks ago, we commented on the uncertainty of the times, with the COVID-19 situation being just one, albeit rapidly developing facet of this. Roll on a few weeks and this has very much taken centre stage as much of the world endures a state of lockdown and financial markets remain in turmoil.
The truth of the matter is, however, that this is not a new issue and has been rumbling on for a number of months now. Any number of ship owners or operators can testify to this, particularly those with calls or operations in Asia, especially China. Notable from the situation we find ourselves in is the resilience of humans as a whole, the ‘can do’ attitude of most owners/operators, and the speed with which we all adapt to the challenges. Putting the economics to one side, even the relatively straightforward operational challenges are far from small and the associated difficulties cannot be underestimated. What is the answer to the question of crew replacements and associated transfers under the current travel restrictions and quarantine regimes? Survey requirements too have, also become far more flexible in nature.
Since we last wrote, the UK has gone from a nervous and somewhat pensive observer of events unfolding in the Far East and latterly Southern Europe, to a state of lockdown with travel restrictions and social distancing becoming the norm.
For the vast majority, we too are now practising the de rigueur concept of the 00’s – working from home. Whilst perhaps a false start over a decade ago, remote working technology and business practices have rapidly developed since then and the colossal efforts of many IT teams have allowed a (hopefully) seamless transition for us and the P&I market as a whole.
It is vital we remain connected, focussed and on hand to assist clients and members, as well as each other.
Indeed many had taken this step prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Communications wise, both for professional and social interaction, social media and video calling apps have really come in to their own and the dwindling art of picking up the phone has certainly made a strong resurgence! These are all important as it is vital we remain connected, focussed and on hand to assist clients and members, as well as each other. They also provide welcome respite and variety from the home office or kitchen table!
Whilst the bigger social, economic and political connotations of current events have yet to fully play out, it is also important to remain focussed on our own smaller worlds, those of our clients and members and, ever importantly, colleagues, friends, neighbours and families. With this in mind, we caught up with three Clubs - Standard, Steamship and North - to see how they are adapting to the world in which we find ourselves.
Mark Collins, Director of Underwriting – The Standard Club
This unprecedented situation is clearly going to be a very challenging for everyone and our thoughts are with our all our members and brokers, their families and the wider maritime community at this very difficult time.
From the club’s perspective, we are pleased to report that we are operating on a ‘business as usual’ basis, continuing to offer our members the fully supportive service they rely upon, which is even more crucial in the current circumstances. Having adopted an ‘agile’ working approach in 2018, we are well practiced at working from home utilising the latest technology to allow effective communication across all levels of the business both internally and externally. Furthermore, we have established a dedicated COVID-19 team which is focussing solely on ensuring members are receiving the most up to date information available as matters are developing at a rapid pace across the world.
That team is also proactively involved within the IG working group to help support the collective industry efforts.
On the financials, our in house investment team moved very quickly to minimise the impact of the market downturn on the club’s investment portfolio, which was already conservatively positioned.
At the heart of any club service is its people and we have taken numerous steps to ensure we support everyone’s health and wellbeing. We have a vast range of supportive online information and workshops including exercise classes, educational support for home schooling children, access to personal finance experts etc. On a more personal note, our teams have been organising a variety of fun events including quiz’s and fitness challenges which are particularly important to maintain the team spirit.
Paul Jennings, Chief Executive - North P&I Club
In response to government guidelines, North P&I Club’s UK and overseas offices are working remotely from home, ensuring that Members continue to receive the best service possible from the Club. It has been a smooth transition so far and everyone can be contacted via their mobile phones and/or emails.
We are enabling our Members to trade with confidence by providing up to date advice from global sources to assist with their operations, the majority of which can be accessed through the Coronavirus tracking tool on our GlobeView platform. For crew dealing with the challenges of self-isolation and the stresses of being away from home during this time, we are encouraging them to use our MindCall helpline.
Naturally, our P&I, FD&D and Loss Prevention teams have seen a spike in enquiries relating to COVID-19. The majority of enquiries relate to the disruption caused by the threat of the virus rather than any cases of COVID-19 itself. We are monitoring the situation carefully as many countries are imposing different restrictions.
Our teams in the UK and overseas have demonstrated what it means to come together as a team and their focus is on wellbeing and collaboration during these unprecedented times. We are writing and sharing blogs and photos with motivational messages, with hints and tips on working from home. We also have a twice-weekly remote International Metafit group exercise, with over 60 of our staff from across the world joining in. Despite being on lockdown, such team spirit will help the North team stay positive and motivated.
Gary Field, Head of Underwriting – Steamship Mutual
We are dealing with the many issues our members are facing in these times, not least in the cruise and ferry industries, and also the challenges faced by the crew in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing.
All our staff are working remotely and our systems are working well. All have responded well to the revised working practices in difficult circumstances, ensuring Members continue to get the service they can reasonably expect.
We are making extensive use of video conferencing with the overseas offices and with service providers, and this has helped to keep working practices as efficient as possible. We are dealing with the many COVID-19 related issues and are reporting those extensively online and via our social media channels.
As always, we appreciate the support and assistance of the global network of correspondents who continue to offer invaluable advice, information and services.
We are keeping a log of port conditions on the Club website alongside more general advice. Where possible we will share individual experiences with other members. We will continue to post updates to the website to keep members and brokers informed of the latest news
We understand that these are stressful times for members and cash flow is under pressure. In this regard we credited our capital distribution on 20th March and the Board have agreed to extend the due date for payment of the first instalments of owned P&I premium until May 20th. Along with our Board we will continue to review the situation.
We are working on many of the IG Sub Committees to address areas of common interest and concern, again using remote working practices.
Thus far we have and we hope will continue, collectively, to find a way through this challenging passage. Stay safe, connected and we all remain on hand to assist in any way we can.