Firms in the UK maritime sector struggling for survival amid the coronavirus lockdown pose a threat to the UK’s supply chain, Merseyside industry leader says.
Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of industry body Mersey Maritime, says the maritime and logistics sector is coming under severe pressure due the current economic shock. He adds this has implications for our supply of food, medicine and vital manufacturing components.
Liverpool city region’s maritime sector is worth more than £4bn a year and employs more than 50,000 people. Mr Shirling-Rooke is now undertaking an urgent survey of local maritime companies to see how badly the crisis is affecting them.
He said: “So much of what we eat, what we wear, what we use, the medicines we need, the vital components for manufacturing, all arrive at our ports by ships across the UK every hour of every day.
“We have an incredibly sophisticated supply chain that depends on multiple players – shipping lines, freight forwarders, logistics and distribution companies and so many more. Britain cannot stay supplied unless we ensure those companies are supported and keep trading.”
In early March Mr Shirling-Rooke warned that the maritime sector would face an “unprecedented” challenge as the coronavirus crisis worsened. Now, the sector is showing signs of strain amid the lockdown.
Earlier this week, Irish Sea ferry operator Stena Line announced the redundancy and furloughing of hundreds of UK staff. The Swedish company, which operates the twice-daily Birkenhead to Belfast route, said it had seen a significant fall in passenger bookings and freight volumes in recent weeks.
Mersey Maritime has taken a lead role in a national taskforce to ensure Britain’s supply chain keeps moving. The Maritime Business Continuity Taskforce includes industry figures and senior Government officials.
As well as looking to ensure the supply chain is maintained during the crisis, the taskforce is also planning ahead for when the UK starts to emerge from lockdown. Mr Shirling-Rooke added: “We are in regular contact with the Department for Transport, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Department for International Trade as part of the strategic planning process.
“We are in the midst of dealing with our biggest challenge since the Second World War. I said at the start of this crisis that the maritime sector would rise to that challenge and would keep the UK supplied.
“However, 46% of the national road haulage fleet is now laid up. We can’t simply furlough everyone then flick a switch when everything’s calmed down and expect an overstretched and damaged supply chain to immediately bounce back – it isn’t possible.
“Good companies are hurting right now and it is the responsibility of Government, and our industry, to come together to ensure they have our full support.”