THE EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW September 2020 Bjrn Hjgaard: governments will act when supermarket shelves are empty In each issue, the Bulletin interviews a shipping executive about current topics, challenges and opportunities, and their personal background. In this edition, the Bulletin talks to Bjrn Hjgaard, Chief Executive Officer of Anglo-Eastern Univan Group in Hong Kong. By Mette Kronholm Frnde, Communications Manager and Editor at BIMCO A round 300,000 seafarers are stranded at sea and unable to perform crew change, which means that, every day, another 10,000 people are asked to sign yet another contract extension. Anglo-Easterns CEO, Bjrn Hjgaard, can see the dominos starting to fall and believes nations will only really act when global trade is so disrupted that neither enough food nor medical supplies are available on supermarket shelves or in pharmacies. According to Hjgaard, the inaction of nations to make crew change possible and consistent is not because of a lack of solutions. Rather, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in every country being out for itself. The breaking point Around June, the ability to perform crew change was going in the right direction, but at the start of August reports emerged of seafarers on three ships in Australia halting work and demanding to be repatriated, as several countries began rolling back crew change possibilities after the number of COVID-19 cases flared up. We are at a breaking point. If sentiments swing, which I fear is starting to happen, and the seafarers start saying no to signing yet another extension, it only takes a few days maybe a couple of weeks before you have large parts of the world fleet unable to move, Hjgaard says. I can see the dominos starting to fall and the global supply chain being severely affected, the seafarers are not striking; they are simply at a breaking point Suddenly, the ships are not going anywhere. They are taking up places at berths, preventing other ships from arriving to discharge and load, and, in a very short period of time, I can see the dominos starting to fall and the global supply chain being severely affected. But we must understand that the seafarers are not striking; they are simply at a breaking point because their legal entitlements to leave are being denied them. Hiking in Hong Kong to clear the head What was the first job you ever held and where in the world was it? What was the first job you held in the shipping/ maritime industry and how did you end up there? If you had not ended up in your current line of work, but done something completely different, what would it be and why? Where in the world did you grow up? What do you do when you need to relax from a hectic work life? Hjgaard believes the only reason this scenario has not played out yet is that, despite the seafarers being overdue for crew change, shipping has continued to deliver. With 90% of global trade transported by ships, however, the situation is fragile. We still have energy and food being delivered, and because there are no consequences for us all, it is easier for politicians to prevent crew change from happening in their country, in their ports. They dont think it matters. But at one point, it matters. There is a point when the whole supply chain stops and we are very close to that breaking point, Hjgaard says. Politicians will only appreciate this when shipping actually breaks down. Suddenly, you see your supermarket shelves run out of daily necessities, and thats when they will realise they need to act. Crew change not on my doorstep Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen nations and ports adopt a beggar-thyneighbourpolicy Many ports, airports and borders are still closed or restricted, which means the ones that have opened have to carry the burden of everybody, according to Hjgaard. While shipping has always been about creating a level playing field for the industry, he fears this is under pressure. Currently, Hjgaard says, if a seafarer flies from India to Doha, they can connect there; but if they fly to Seoul, in Korea, they can do crew change, but have to quarantine for two weeks after arrival. If they fly to Tokyo, quarantine is not demanded, but the ship must be two weeks at sea, and everyone has to be healthy, before it calls at Japan. If the seafarer flies to Hong Kong, seafarers can be relieved, but only if the ship is doing cargo operations and if they call at Singapore, crew change is also possible, but only if the ship carries a Singaporean flag. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen nations and ports adopt a beggar-thy-neighbour-policy. The funny thing is that, before the pandemic, everyone would have screamed at the idea of ports and countries implementing different rules to put themselves in a better position than the others. But this crisis has caused a situation where every country is out for itself, Hjgaard says, adding: Many of these obstacles, such as Singapores flag rule, do not have any medical reasoning. Crew on Singapore-flagged ships do not have a smaller chance of contracting COVID-19 than crew on any other flagged ship. These obstacles are basically just a way for governments, worldwide, to make sure there are crew changes, but not on their doorstep preferably. Solutions are available There are solutions to the crew change crisis, but, so far, governments have not reacted to those in front of them, Hjgaard believes. He points to the COVID-19 testing of crew and to the 12-step framework of protocols on how to open doors to crew change despite the outbreak, presented by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO and other industry organisations, and encouraged by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). We could have the seafarers take COVID-19 tests before they leave their home country. This could be done at an accredited test centre, for example, no later than 48 hours before leaving their home country. In most countries, it is possible to screen incoming people. Obviously, it would also be possible to test seafarers, Hjgaard says, adding that while the approach does not eliminate the risk, it brings it down significantly. Obviously, it would also be possible to test seafarers The IMO has no legal powers to enforce the use of the 12-step framework, but it has encouraged nations and governments to step up and implement it. The framework of protocols works. It covers the journey from the time seafarers leave home and board the ship until they arrive back home but it comes down to individual ports and countries putting it in place, Hjgaard says. Anglo-Eastern has moved about 14,000 crew since 1 April and has 16,000 people on board its ships at any given time. Around 70 of their ships about 10 per cent of the fleet have not managed to carry out any crew change in the past five months. Globally, 250,000-300,000 seafarers are still out there and overdue for crew change. If the current situation of asking seafarers to sign extensions of their contracts time and time again becomes the norm, we will simply not be able to manage ships. It will be an impossibility, Hjgaard says. Connect with BIMCO Facebook Twitter Linkedin YouTube I was a runner, or delivery boy, for a clothing store (MR) in Struer, Denmark, after school when I was 14. My job was to bring suits and so on from the store to the tailor and back. Apart from my seagoing career, my first job ashore was as stowage coordinator for Maersks container ships. I thought seriously of training as a pilot, so I would probably have ended up in aviation. Shipping was easier to get into back in the day, though. I grew up in Struer, and for a couple of years in Qaqortoq, Greenland. That was very different, but taught me that normal depends on who you ask to define it. I go hiking with my wife and my Labrador Retriever in the country parks of Hong Kong. It is a little-known fact, but 72 per cent of Hong Kong is lush and green, with 500km of the most amazing hiking trails in the world. Theres no better way to clear the head and it is good exercise.