I don’t know about other countries, but the United States is an extremely litigious society. Americans sue for everything, and in many cases, acts of suing are perversions of the law meant to protect people and culture. So, when COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the entire world, who is responsible, and who feels the most entitled? In this article, global shipping executive Victor Restis offers some insights into the legal ramifications in international shipping and trade that were spawned by COVID-19.
So, we all know that COVID-19 was a nightmare, but I think it is safe to say that most people didn’t ponder the ramifications of the pandemic outside their bubble. They most certainly noticed there was a shortage of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but did they consider the breadth of international supply chains? COVID-19 slowed manufacturing, transportation, and delivery of many products around the world, and for one simple reason: human resources took a big hit. COVID closed businesses because there weren’t people to staff them. Many were stuck at home sick or not sick to slow the spread of the virus. Lockdown orders emptied streets, and that translated through the international shipping industry as well.
When a large cargo vessel filled with products (dry or wet) was unable to port because of a lack of a workforce, or it was delayed due to a backlog of other vessels waiting to port, who is responsible for any damages to the product? Who is liable if a person who is infected with the virus does show up to work and infects others, which causes a chain-reaction in the supply chain, causing further backlogs?
In the maritime industry, there are protections for this, but nobody ever thought it would be caused by an unforeseeable force like a global pandemic. There is a protective regulatory clause called Force Majeure that was created to protect against murky legal circumstances in the shipping and trade industry. Restis points out that many of the lawsuits and legal questions will fall under Force Majeure and will likely be ruled by an inter-agency committee outside the international courts.
To me, it seems like a massive waste of time and resources to launch a litany of lawsuits due to circumstances caused by a global pandemic. Instead, why not getting together with the various executives and leaders, like Mr. Restis, to build out safeguards so that the industry is made more durable in case of future events that may disrupt global supply chains and all the points along its path.