Our March blog post was meant to be about something completely different than war. However, in a month, the war has changed the world more than the last two years of pandemic, which we thought had already changed it more than enough. The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is massive, and it affects us closely in Meriaura. Therefore, it would have felt wrong to write about something else now.
The operating environment in maritime transport has changed rapidly since the outbreak of war. During the first days of the war, we made a decision, probably as the first shipping company, to suspend traffic to Russia. The main reason was the safety of our Ukrainian personnel. The risk of jamming in ports and financial losses, as well as support and understanding from our customers, also supported the decision. We have been in close contact with our customers who had traffic in Russia and together we sought alternative ways to solve the problems. Since then most companies have announced suspending all business in Russia based on corporate responsibility.
The war has caused a rise in costs in general, and in bunker price we’ve seen an unprecedented climb. The price almost doubled momentarily and continues to fluctuate sharply. However, demand for maritime transport has remained strong. The increase in fuel prices in a way supports maritime transport when the cost per tonne does not increase in the same proportion as in road transport, for example. In Meriaura we have been improving transport efficiency already before the crisis, but now we should highlight the importance of it even more.
It is difficult to predict all the impacts of the crisis, and that makes it more challenging to anticipate customer operations and needs. It is certain that some cargo flows will shrink, and others will increase, and some goods may seek new routes. Changes in the food market are to be expected. Grain exports are likely to decrease as stocks are already thin from last summer’s poor harvest.
Sanctions against Russia, such as bans on the import and export of products, as well as bank sanctions, complicate some of our own operations as well.
Reducing our energy dependence on Russia and fossil fuels will certainly reflect, for example, on accelerating investments in renewable energy, such as wind power projects. This brings new opportunities to our project and special cargo business and is likely to strengthen the already strong demand.
Ukraine in our Minds and in our hearts
Since the beginning of the war, I have learned a lot from Ukraine. It is a country with an active maritime sector, with its numerous maritime schools dating back centuries. There are roughly 80,000 Ukrainian seafarers sailing on the ships around the world (for comparison, the number in Finland is less than 10,000).
We have about ten Ukrainian seafarers working at Meriaura, and through them the war has come close to our work community. We have promised to help and support them in the crisis, and have helped their family members to safety, arranged travel and accommodation, and will help them to start a life in Finland. When a person decides to leave his home and head to the unknown to preserve his life, it is an extreme act. The reunions of couples on our ships have moved us deeply. We warmly welcome these new friends to the Meriaura family and live beside them on the “home front”. Even though they are now safe, we cannot even begin to understand how crushing it is to see the destruction of their homeland. The worry for relatives and friends who stayed behind is enormous. Will there be a home left to return to someday?
We organized a fund-raising campaign among the office staff to help Ukraine. This idea came from a member of the staff. We thought that this was a great idea, and us, the owner family, promised to double the amount collected by the staff, and Meriaura doubled the amount again. That is, the funds collected by the staff were quadrupled. In this way, in less than a day, we raised together 14.000 euros that were immediately sent to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
When the war ends, huge reconstruction will start. Goods will be moving and ships will be needed. So, even if the world is messed up, at Meriaura we’d better focus on what we do best; serving our European customers to fulfill their needs in maritime transport, and ensuring the security of supply in Finland. I hope from the bottom of my heart that the crisis will be over soon, and people will be able to live in safety and peace in a more united, fossil-free Europe.