Container sector will play its part in vaccine logistics, eventually

COVID vaccinations will eventually be transported by sea, but the sector will first need to demonstrate its reliability and availability of appropriate technology, according to an industry panel.

Speaking at Containing Covid-19: Containerisation’s role in global vaccine distribution, the panel explained that pressure to move COVID vaccine cargoes to ocean freight will build as countries and companies look to cut the delivered cost of vaccines.

“We don’t have endless supplies of money and this is something governments need to be careful on. The target price for vaccines is $3-5 per dose and transportation costs can be up to 30 or 40%,” said Michael Culme-Seymour, VP & Managing Director at APAC Roambee.

Siddharth Adya, Vice President Cargo Solutions at PSA International said that data sharing and data flow will be key for the handling of containerised vaccine shipments by sea. “If data can be shared pre-arrival, the terminal… can plan ahead to ensure adequate resources to allow for a minimal time lag from vessel berth to the point the box is discharged and outgated. Further, with access to information, hand-offs across different modes can be pre-planned.”

Petkov admitted that the container sector had faced schedule reliability challenges over recent years, and that while Maersk was ahead of the pack in reliability performance, the company was not proud of its performance. Maersk has a multi-year plan for improving reliability, and part of that was to engage in partnerships with customers to improve forward visibility on demand levels. The panel all agreed that partnerships and co-operation were key to progress.

Petkov said that vaccines were a priority not just for the obvious humanitarian benefits, but as a means of opening up trade again, and maritime transport had much lower carbon emissions as well as lower costs.