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Covid puts a freeze on reefer calls to Tianjin

All available reefer plugs are taken at Tianjin’s Xingang port, one of the main entry points for frozen food into China, leading carriers to stop taking reefer orders bound for the northern Chinese port.

Splash reported last week how, fearing Covid strains could enter the country on frozen food imports, China had upped its checks on reefer shipments, leading to considerable delays at a number of ports and a raft of surcharges coming in from liners.

The situation has since deteriorated. In a note to clients yesterday, Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC), the world’s second largest containerline, noted: “The COVID test procedures related to import reefer cargo are slowing down the operations in the port of Xingang, China, where reefers are kept lying on the quayside, occupying all the available plugs.”

MSC said it cannot secure the discharge of reefer containers at the designated port where a power source may be not available. The line has decided to stop taking any reefers bound for Xingang until the congestion issue eases.

MSC also warned that finding alternative reefer destinations was proving difficult.

“It should be observed in fact that practically all the main ports in Asia (and not only Asia) are subject to heavy pressure and working almost at full utilization, thus the alternative places for unloading reefers are minimal,” MSC warned.

Chinese health officials said last week that two cold-chain storage workers in Tianjin were infected with Covid-19. Earlier Covid relapses in the summer in cities including Beijing and Dalian were cited as coming from frozen food, with salmon often mentioned. A total of 2.3m Tianjin citizens had been tested for coronavirus as of Monday in a very rapid roll out of municipal testing.

Cheng Lie Navigation, the intra-Asia subsidiary of French line CMA CGM, told clients last week that the State Council in Beijing had recently released a preventive and comprehensive disinfection work plan for cold chain food imports.

The notice requires all relevant authorities – starting with China customs – to step up on thorough inspection and disinfection work to effectively prevent the spread of the Covid-19 via cold chain food imports.

“Across all ports in China, nucleic acid testing inspection and disinfection requirements may become more frequent and stringent on reefer imports. This could eventually lead to delays in customs clearance and release of reefer imports, and trigger a possible congestion in ports where supply of reefer plugs start to run tight,” the intra-Asia operator warned last week.

Two cities in southern Fujian province said last week they found traces of the virus in shipments of pomfret from India and beef from Argentina.

In the Yangtze River port city of Wuhan, authorities said last week they had detected the virus on frozen beef from Brazil.

Shanghai Port has also started implementing a similar measure to Tianjin’s, inspecting import reefer products and shippers are expecting delays at the port in the coming days.

Thus far, China has suspended frozen food imports from 99 suppliers in 20 countries.

Authorities in New Zealand also suspected frozen imported food for a sudden outbreak of the virus five weeks ago.

The World Health Organization continues to maintain on its website “there is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food or food packaging”.

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.


  1. Very informative story. But needs a slight correction on third para. It ends with “occupying all the the available the plugs.””.

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