SHIPPING | Supply chain chaos

Gavin van Marle | Lloyd’s List | 2010.10.22

THE idea of a 24-hour strike by shipping to demonstrate to the world at large just how much it depends upon our industry is in a fine tradition of thought experiments that, if they actually came to pass, would cause unprecedented havoc.

In the apocalyptic-dystopian 1977 novel Lucifer’s Hammer, the phrase “society is only three meals removed from savagery”, appeared to be a reworking of a quote that has been variously attributed to revolutionary leaders such as Mao and Trotsky.

The theory is that all it would need for society to descend into anarchy is 24 hours without food. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if no one knew where their — or their children’s — next meal was coming from.

Shipping is one of the few industries that hold the power to bring that ghastly thought into reality. So many countries around the world rely on the global fleet to keep their populations fed, clothed and warm that a 24-hour shipping strike would, literally, be cataclysmic in its consequences.

It would probably be unfair to put V. Ships president Roberto Giorgi in the same bracket as some of history’s most authoritarian figures, but his comments in Cyprus this week ought to receive a wider audience than just the shipping community. He is, unfortunately, preaching to the converted.

The general public continues its day-to-day business blissfully unaware of the way in which orderly society is held together by such fragile supply chains.

The near-universal lack of awareness or concern over modern-day piracy, which so threatens these lines of supply, illustrates this.

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