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Congested LA and Long Beach ports battle major Covid outbreak

California’s main two boxports, already suffering extreme congestion (see MarineTraffic map created today below), are having to fight a severe outbreak of Covid-19 among their workforces, something that could hamper productivity further.

Around 700 dockworkers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have contracted coronavirus and hundreds more have taken virus-related leaves.

Port executives, union leaders and elected officials are now pushing to kickstart a campaign to initiate dockworker vaccinations, spooked by the possibility that America’s two largest container gateways could be forced to shut.

We’ve got more cargo than we do skilled labour

“We’ve got more cargo than we do skilled labour,” Eugene Seroka, executive director of the Los Angeles port, told the Los Angeles Times last week. “We are told 1,800 workers are not going on the job due to Covid right now. That can [include] those who are isolating through contact tracing or awaiting test results. Or maybe [those who] fear … going on the job when a lot of people are sick.”

Andy Lane, vice president, business advisory covering ports and carriers at Sea-Intelligence, commented: “From a business perspective, any reduction in labour power and/or closures of facilities will be disastrous and would take a very long time – months – to dig out from. If I were a ship operator, I think that I would be looking to use more of my assets to other destinations where sufficient demand exists.”

A new shipping investment report from Jefferies today warned the Covid outbreak could further exacerbate the elevated port congestion as workers are quarantined or stay home.

Another 60 workers have also been infected at the NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, California.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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