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Coronavirus impact on container shipping industry in China

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a decline in the number of ships calling on Chinese ports including Shanghai and Yangshan in January, as factories across the country remain closed or operating at low capacity. The number of port calls at Shanghai and Yangshang declined by 17% in January, compared to the same period in the previous year.

Carriers have blanked 21 sailings on the US-Asia Pacific trade route with the primary reason being weak demand in China. The cancellations are in addition to 66 cancellations that took place during the Lunar New Year resulting in 199,000 20 tonne equivalent (TEU) units of reduced capacity.

On the Asia-Europe trade route, a total of 61 canceled sailings have been announced, representing a 151,000 TEU capacity reduction.

The biggest impact of the cancellations is expected to be on Maersk due to its wide exposure to container shipping and port terminals. The company’s operations in China represent 30% of its annual shipping volume. Hapag Lloyd is another company that is expected to witness a weak first quarter as its operations in China account for 25% of group revenue.

Preventive measures for coronavirus at ports

Timely safety measures and preventive actions by various ports and shipping organisations are expected to limit the impact of the outbreak.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) stated that by implementing certain preventive measures for coronavirus, ports and global shipping can continue to operate and avoid the closure of any port. The ICS recommenced exit screening at all ports in the affected areas to isolate passengers displaying symptoms of the disease and curb its spread to other countries.

All major ports across the world have adopted a 14-day quarantine period for vessels arriving from or transiting through China. Vessels arriving from China are required to report regarding the health of the crew members and passengers prior to berthing.

Some of the restrictions placed by ports across the world are detailed below.

China

The coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on the shipping industry in China, which is home to seven of the busiest ports in the world. Although loading and unloading operations are functioning normally, barge service is delayed at all ports.

Few container depots in Shanghai, which is the busiest port in the world according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, are closed until 10 February.

The government has implemented restrictions on some of these ports to contain the spread of the disease. Crew disembarking has been completely restricted at all ports. Any vessels berthing at Tianjin, Dalian and Xiamen ports are required to provide a health declaration before berthing.

Vessels with crew from Wuhan or the Hubei province are restricted to berth at the Putian and Quanzhou ports. At the Ningbo port, such vessels will be placed under isolation for 14 days before berthing.

Substitution of crew at the Shanghai, Xiamen, Ningbo, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao and Guangzhou ports has been prohibited. Wearing facial masks and temperature checks everyday has been initiated as a preventive action for coronavirus.

US

The US Coast Guard issued a notice on 02 February 2020 stating that any passenger vessels or vessels carrying passengers, which have been to China or embarked passengers in China in the last 14 days, will be denied entry into the US. Any passengers who exceed the 14 day period and are symptom-free will be allowed entry into the US.

Non-passenger vessels are allowed to operate in the US with restrictions if they have been to China or embarked passengers in China within the last 14 days under the condition that there are no sick crewmembers. Any vessels with sick crew members are required to notify the nearest Coast Guard Captain of the Port.

Singapore

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has implemented temperature screening at all sea checkpoints, including ferry and cruise terminals. Visitors having a travel history in Hubei or possessing PRC passports issued in Hubei, will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore.

Australia

Australia initiated additional border screening and isolation measures on 01 February. Any vessels that have left China or transited through the country after 01 February and less than 14 days prior to the date will be required to meet coronavirus requirements set by the government.

The same applies to vessels with crew of passengers, vessels with ill passengers and vessels having crew of passengers who have come in contact with confirmed cases.

Passengers or crewmembers on all vessels departing or transiting through China will not be allowed to disembark from the vessel until a biosecurity officer screens them for coronavirus and other infectious diseases. Based on the advice of the biosecurity officer, the passengers will either be asked to self-isolate as a preventive measure or undergo further tests.

Japan

Diamond Princess cruise ship owned and operated by Princess Cruises was quarantined off the coast of Yokohama after a suspected case of coronavirus infection was reported on 03 February. Close to 700 confirmed cases have been reported on the ship, which had 2,666 guests (majority from Japan) and 1,045 crew on board.

The Japanese health authorities commenced the disembarking process on 19 February for those passengers who did not display any symptoms of the disease since the beginning of the quarantine period and tested negative for the virus.

Considered as the gateway to Japan, the Yokohama port recently inaugurated the Shinko Pier terminal. The Diamond Princess cruise ship was the first to call on the new terminal. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry of Japan noted that 13 out of 14 cruise operators have cancelled their scheduled tours to Japan, as reported by Japan Times.

Turkey

Turkey has taken coronavirus safety measures to contain the spread of the infection by restricting cruise ships from Chinese ports from docking in the country. Cargo ships have been permitted to dock although they will undergo strict inspections. The country has placed 33 health inspection centers at various our ports to carry out screening procedures.