Coronavirus: Mersey maritime sector ready for ‘unprecedented challenge’

Chris Shirling-Rooke, CEO of Mersey Maritime, said the spread of Coronavirus, and measures put in place to deal with it, would put huge pressures on the UK supply chain. Tony McDonough reports

Chris Shirling-Rooke
Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Mersey Maritime


Liverpool city region’s maritime sector faces an “unprecedented challenge” in the coming weeks as the UK steps up its battle to deal with the coronavirus.

Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of industry body Mersey Maritime, said the spread of Coronavirus, and measures put in place to deal with it, would put huge pressures on the UK supply chain.

But he added that the message from his members was one of determination to maintain an approach of “business as usual” as far as possible. Mersey Maritime itself has made the decision to continue its usual roster of monthly members’ events, surgeries and meetings.

Mr Shirling-Rooke welcomed the Budget earlier this week which pledged a £30bn package of support for the economy and added that it was crucial the Government recognised the importance of ensuring the maritime can continue to do its job. He also urged consumers to avoid the temptation to panic buy.

On Thursday afternoon Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was formally moving from the containment phase to one of trying to delay the spread of the virus to prevent the possibility of the NHS being overwhelmed. He said this was the “worst public health crisis for a generation”.

Britain is continuing to take a more softly-softly approach to the coronavirus threat compared to other countries. Italy, which has seen a surge in cases, is on total lockdown while countries such as Ireland and Denmark have implemented measures such as the closure of schools.

Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the coronavirus press conference


There has been sporadic panic-buying of goods such as toilet rolls and pasta, despite assurances from large retailers that they are currently well stocked. 

The UK’s £46bn maritime sector plays a vital role in ensuring the supermarket shelves remain full. Merseyside is the country’s leading maritime cluster, worth more than £4bn a year and employing around 52,000 people.

Mr Shirling-Rooke added: “The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented challenge and the maritime sector is at the epicentre – our shipping companies, our logistics specialists, our freight forwarders keep the country supplied in everything from food, to medicine to fuel.

“Speaking to our members they are bracing themselves for a major challenge in the coming weeks and they have business continuity plans in place to keep disruption to a minimum. In its Budget the Government said it would do whatever was necessary to protect our economy.

“We would also appeal to the wider public to be aware that the supply chain is working well and that panic buying is unnecessary and may cause problems for more vulnerable members of our communities.”

Mr Shirling-Rooke also said the Government, and society at large, needed to assess its priorities and focus on the essentials. He explained: “I think there’s something just a little more important than sport and holidays.

“When I hear talk of an ‘ask’ from Government for a bailout for Rugby League and airlines I suspect we’ve slightly missed the seriousness of the current situation.  Without food, fuel or medicine, there is no sport, there are no holidays. I fear there’s a complete breakdown in society and those values that we’ve fought so hard for.

“While I have every confidence that our world class logistics industry will keep the lights on and the shelves stocked, as we have for generations, I do however feel we need to reflect on our behaviour as a society as this situation unfolds and how we view the sovereign imperative to protect life in our own country. I also think we need a certain realisation that everything isn’t just about money, holidays and toilet rolls.”

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