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Coronavirus: Chinese ports grind to a halt while yards declare force majeure

Agents and brokers are reporting operations are slowing down at Chinese ports and shipyards as the coronavirus takes its toll and the Lunar New Year holidays are extended.

Despite an edict from the Ministry of Transport yesterday urging port operators to keep ships moving, a lack of stevedores and truck drivers is slowing down vessel turnaround times, and storage yards are also beginning to clog up.

The coronavirus has now topped the SARS virus from 2003 with the number of cases reported closing in on 10,000 and the World Health Organisation declaring the crisis as a global health emergency.

The crisis has also been felt at Chinese shipyards. Yards are turning away vessels from scheduled drydocks citing labour shortages, and the normally busy deliveries of newbuildings in any given January has slowed right down. Meanwhile, scrubber retrofits – already taking far longer than planned – are slipping further behind schedule. Splash understands around 40 boxships in China are now falling behind their redelivery schedules from having scrubbers installed.

The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade is offering force majeure certificates to businesses in China affected by the outbreak of the Wuhan novel coronavirus, with many shipyards applying for this.

The shipping markets were spooked yesterday by rumours that Beijing was contemplating ceasing cargo operations at many of its ports, but there has been no official statement on the matter.

Monaco brokers Thurlestone Shipping noted in a panamax report to clients that a few port closures have been “threatened” across China due to the current coronavirus crisis, something that could potentially aid in holding up a few vessels as they wait to discharge.

Elsewhere, in Singapore on Wednesday there was a confirmed case of a crewmember with the coronavirus infection, who was working onboard a ship in local waters. Quarantine measures have taken effect.

Terminal operator PSA Singapore has issued an advisory demanding all ship crew with passports from Hubei must remain onboard while visitors who have been to mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau in the past 14 days will be declined entry to PSA port premises.

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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