As the world recovers from COVID-19, other areas of the world recovering enough to start pointing fingers and assigning blame for disruptions caused by the global pandemic. In an article covering this topic, Greek shipping and trade executive, Victor Restis indicates that although there were strains to the supply chain, it mostly held strong. I think any lawsuits inspired by COVID are frivolous and should be stomped out immediately. Interestingly, there is a law called Force Majeure that provides protections between contract parties and maybe what is used to sort through the legal madness caused by COVID-19. Force Majeure bears the burden of proof to translate what the pandemic caused and how maritime/international/contractual law all play together.
Port safety was a main concern. In the maritime industry, more than two million seafarers are traversing the seas and oceans aboard large cargo vessels. As these vessels travel from port to port, scheduling is a huge undertaking that requires the best that logistics has to offer. As COVID-19 shut down borders and ports, ships were unable to unload cargo, and that caused a domino effect. The question raised in the article is when disruptions like this happen, who is responsible?
When addressing this issue, it’s not cut and dry. The global pandemic disrupted the entire world. Mr. Restis points out that there are contracts between companies for nearly every touchpoint of the supply chain and the responsibilities contractually fall in favor of one company over another. However, the pandemic changed this theory as well.
The other potentially legally quagmire is the issue of port safety. When is a port deemed unsafe? What precautions were taken to protect it, and how does it handle incoming scheduled vessels? And if that port is considered hazardous and ships cannot dock, what happens to the ships behind them? Supply chains are managed by a tightly scheduled process that runs smoothly on most days – well, coronavirus has given us anything but “most days.” The legal questions start piling up just as much as the undelivered cargo.
With an industry as gigantic as international shipping and trade, I am sure there are legal teams working these problems, while logistic staff re-direct vessels to other ports deemed safe. As a civilian, I did not experience any mass shortages of food or supplies because of the coronavirus (not counting toilet paper and hand sanitizer, which was more of a manufacturing and hoarding issue that supply chain). Companies need to put the lawyers away and start working together to avoid any future disruptions.