US Ports Fight to Stay Open amid Unfolding COVID-19 Crisis

Shipping lines have canceled 20 voyages to the Port of Oakland, one of the 10 busiest container seaports in the U.S., between February and April 2020, the port informed.

Image Courtesy: PxHere under CC Public Domain License

The blanking of sailings is attributed to reduced demand for ship space because of China’s manufacturing downturn caused by the lockdown measures imposed in the country to curb the coronavirus oubreak.

The port said that ocean carriers are scuttling dozens of more sailings to ports worldwide through spring, which is likely to result in a decline in March import volume, as well.

Port of Oakland’s containerized export volume increased 15.4 percent last month over February 2019, making it the busiest February for export cargo in the past six years, the port said.

Much of the volume increase was ascribed to growth in agricultural exports – especially refrigerated perishables.

The port’s exports account for 51 percent of its loaded container volume so far, in 2020, while imports account for 49 percent of the total. The port handles more than 2.5 million cargo containers annually.

The port said its February import volume declined 9.2 percent compared to the same period last year amid the usual slumps following Lunar New Year holidays in Asia, where most Oakland imports originate, as well as prolonged factory shutdowns in China.

The port remains operational despite an Alameda County shelter-in-place order issued on March 16, intended to slow the spread of coronavirus. Under the restrictions, only essential businesses are permitted to remain open.

The San Francisco Bay Area is the hardest-hit region in California with more than 290 confirmed COVID-19 infections.

“Our operations are critical to the health, safety, infrastructure and economy of our region,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan. “We will continue to function as a vital gateway for global trade and transportation while doing everything possible to protect our employees, customers and business partners.”

The port said marine terminals would continue to load and unload cargo from ships, and that the airport would go on with its daily schedule of inbound and departing flights.

The port plans to adopt a resilience plan to staff its operations while minimizing employee exposure to coronavirus. Until now, the port hasn’t received any reports of employees, customers or business partners testing positive for coronavirus.

Shipping lines and marine terminal operators have said they’ll continue operations in Oakland, according to the port, which has also met with longshore union officials to determine what staffing levels could be expected on the docks.

The port added it would adopt social distancing protocols at its facilities and that it was also conferring with marine terminal operators on how best to sanitize seaport operations.

The Port of New York and New Jersey

The Port of New York and New Jersey informed that it was open as well and operating under normal conditions amid the unfolding health crisis associated with COVID-19.

“Our supply chain partners from the marine terminal operators and longshore labor to truckers and warehouse and distribution center operators are working hard to help sustain our economy and support the 28 million consumers in the local region that are dependent on the port during this difficult time,” the port authority said.

Despite lower container volumes due to the extended closure of factories in China, the port is receiving regular container vessel calls and all indications are that Chinese supply chains and factories are resuming normal production levels, the port added.

“All truck gates are fully operational during all regularly scheduled hours; with minor modifications for interacting with vessel crew and truckers.  There has been no impact to our intermodal rail capabilities, and none are expected at this time.  Our drayage truck partners are operating at full strength and not experiencing any driver shortages,” the port added.

“All cruise lines operating out of the Port of New York and New Jersey have suspended operations for at least 30 days. “

As a precautionary measure, the port authority has canceled all upcoming public events and will hold all but essential meetings remotely until further notice.  By and large, terminal operators and supply chain partners are following suit.

Seattle and Tacoma

All marine terminals in Seattle and Tacoma continue normal operations at the Northwest Seaport Alliance.

“Through a proactive customer outreach program, we are working to provide customized service solutions to mitigate operational disruptions to the supply chain,” the alliance informed.

“The NWSA has also developed a business continuity plan in coordination with our key industry partners in light of a forecasted cargo surge in late April to early May.”

NWSA said that in order to slow the spread of the virus, the international and domestic terminals have adopted mitigation plans, which include the implementation of social distancing measures, a reduction in access to terminals for nonessential personnel and minimizing in-person contact between workers and customers.

The ports said that terminals have enhanced and increased their cleaning and disinfecting services and are providing extra cleaning supplies, including hand cleaning stations.

There are also on-call contractors in place for a complete terminal cleaning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

South Carolina Ports

South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said that S.C. ports are operating normally and working with the entire maritime community to ensure supply chains remain functional.

According to the port, the country’s newest container terminal, the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, is on track to open in March 2021 as construction advances in early 2020.

Phase One is planned to add 700,000 TEUs of capacity to S.C. ports. It will feature five cranes with 169 feet of lift height and 228 feet of outreach — arriving in late summer — and 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes — arriving in winter 2020, as well as a 1,400-foot wharf capable of handling up to 19,000-TEU vessels.

World Maritime News Staff