10 Challenges for The Shipping Industry

With a global pandemic forcing change and the economic impact what challenges are the shipping industry facing in 2021?

The first year of this decade was nothing like we could have anticipated, and as we are striding forward into 2021 we recognize that our industry isn’t alone in facing significant changes. With a global pandemic still forcing change, and the economic impact on world trade, what challenges are the shipping industry facing in 2021?

Carbon emissions

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) have set goals for CO2 emission regulation, and those long-term targets will require drastic technological breakthroughs to find alternatives for the global shipping industry to maintain the level of activity it currently operates.

Shorter supply chains

One way to meet the decarbonisation goals is shorter supply chains; sourcing more locally for the needs of business and consumer goods. This has been highlighted significantly during Covid-19, as people are forced to limit their travel, and source goods locally.


Industry 4.0 is evolving the shipping industry; many roles are being streamlined with automated processes and technical advancements, but the initial expense of these systems is one which prices some out of these advancements, and the impact on local employment can’t be ignored.


Similarly, replacing much of the pen-and-paper processing of shipments with digitised solutions has reduced time and data errors, and consumer feedback has improved, but the cost is another significant outlay, and not every area has adapted to these digital solutions, meaning shipping companies face managing multiple systems.

Momentum impacted by the pandemic and the economic fallout

Shipping timescales have been significantly impacted as companies shut down to avoid infection; fewer workers are present, social distancing guidelines limit the teams at port and on-board ships, and the knock-on effect means that the economy will take years to recover from the pandemic.

Localized disruptions

The global shipping industry had already taken a hit in 2019; tensions between America and China, disruption in the EU, several countries complaining about Indian tariffs and ongoing tension in the Japan-Korea trade dispute have all had an impact on profits and productivity.

Crew welfare, fatigue and human error

As crews are being condensed, staff are forced to work longer stretches, spending more time on-board ships, whilst limited crews are working in ports, leading to increased human error and mistakes as fatigue impacts productivity.

Time-sensitive goods, cargo damage and loss

These delays and smaller crews mean that time sensitive goods such as foodstuffs are being lost, costing companies huge sums in waste, whilst human error is causing increasing numbers of loads being damaged or misplaced in the shipping process.

Delayed maintenance and bunker analysis

Another impact of fewer crew members and restrictions for people moving on and off ships means that vital maintenance and bunker analysis is being delayed – this puts ships and their crews at risk.

Impact on emergency responses

These delays in maintenance are also being seen in emergency responses – smaller teams and restrictions on contact mean that accidents and emergencies may be responded to more slowly.

Overall, it is a challenging time for the shipping industry, but there’s a lot that can be done to meet these challenges head on, and many benefits to embracing the changes being forced upon us. Streamlining services and solutions to supplying more locally mean that carbon emissions are significantly reduced. Smaller teams mean more commitment and increased skill, with streamlined efficiencies in the process, and fewer areas for mistakes as the communication is more direct. Embracing the technologies of Industry 4.0 and digitizing systems not only meets the needs of today, but future proofs your organisation, taking you into the next decade, no matter what new challenges may come.

Working with experts in your niche means recruiting from a bank of experts with experience in the specific skills you need; call our team today to learn more about our experience in this area and how we can help you to position the best talent in your shipping and freight roles.

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