Maritime transport underpins world economic interdependency and global supply chain linkages. Shipping and ports handle over 80 per cent of global merchandise trade by volume, and more than 70 per cent of its value. Supply chain disruptions caused by stressors spanning economic crises, political events, natural disasters, cybersecurity incidents and the COVID-19 pandemic, and more recently the conflict in the Black Sea region, underscore the role of maritime transport as an important transmission channel – one which can send shockwaves across supply chains and bring world trade and business to a halt.
Port resilience is not only an imperative for supply chains, but also for the national economies they support. Safeguarding the integrity of the maritime transport chain is a sustainable development imperative, particularly as developing countries have become major players in maritime transport and trade. Ensuring the integrity and the well-functioning of maritime transportation is critical for all economies, developed and developing alike, in particular small island developing States (SIDS) and least developed landlocked countries (LLDCs). These vulnerable economies depend heavily on maritime transport networks for their livelihood and access to the global marketplace. Furthermore, they are already burdened by disproportionately high transport costs and low shipping connectivity, which makes their trade uncompetitive, volatile, unpredictable and costly.
COVID-19 and related restrictions have caused serious disruptions in ports; risks at the port level can be multiplied across extended supply chains and across borders. Various industries faced challenges along their supply chain. These included: (i) raw material shortages; (ii) lead time issues; (iii) blank sailings by ocean carriers; (iv) port closures; (v) reduced working hours; (vi) equipment scarcity; (vii) labour shortages; and (viii) truck/transport capacity constraints. This situation has put pressure on the integrity of global supply chains and has the potential to erode the benefits resulting from efforts made over the past decades and aimed at enhancing supply chain operations.
A paradigm shift has been unfolding since the COVID-19 pandemic, with risk management and resilience-building raising new policy and business concerns. In this context, business continuity plans (BCPs) and emergency-response mechanisms have again shown to be vital. The pandemic has underscored the need for future maritime transport to be calibrated to risk exposure and for enhanced risk management and resilience-building capabilities. Understanding exposure, vulnerabilities and potential losses is key to informing resilience-building in the sector. Industry players and policymakers are expected to increasingly focus on developing emergency-response guidelines and contingency plans to deal with future disruptions. Criteria and metrics on risk assessment and management, digitalization and harmonized disaster and emergency-response mechanisms are likely to be increasingly mainstreamed into relevant national and regional transport policies. It can be expected that early warning systems, scenario planning, improved forecasts, information-sharing, end-to-end transparency, data analytics, business continuity plans and risk management skills, will feature higher on relevant policy agendas and industry plans.
Building the capability of countries to anticipate, prepare for, respond to and recover from significant multi-hazard threats is crucial, and requires enabling agile and resilient maritime transport systems. Investing in risk management and emergency response preparedness, to face future pandemics but also other disruptive events, is crucial to future proof ports and the broader maritime supply chain. The potential risk of future pandemics and other disruptive events calls for investment in risk management and emergency preparedness with a view to future proofing ports and the broader maritime supply chain.