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Yantian port disruption impact widens as delays lengthen

Maersk is warning that the partial closing of one of the largest global container ports due to a COVID-19 outbreak is “getting worse,” with delays now expected to stretch into two weeks, as the container line and others skip calls or call at alternative ports.

The longer it takes the Yantian International Container Terminal (YICT) in Shenzhen, China, to open its western berth and ramp up port performance, which has been hit by reduced labor, the bigger the negative impact on trans-Pacific on-time vessel performance, which was at 22.2 percent to the US West Coast in April, according to Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis.

The Yantian congestion — and to a lesser degree the Thursday closing of a container terminal in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, after a crane fell over — throws additional wrenches in an ocean shipping system already taxed by the lingering impact of the Suez Canal disruption in late March and a record surge of Asian exports that has caused port congestion in Asia, the US, and Europe.

Speaking during a Maersk webinar on Wednesday, Nikhil Palsule, Maersk Asia-Pacific head of cargo, said it is not yet clear when the west terminal at Yantian will reopen, adding that the congestion there is “getting worse before it gets better.” The east terminal is operating but at around 30 percent of normal productivity as dock workers remain quarantined or work in smaller teams.

The closure of the three-berth west terminal is causing significant disruption with “increased congestion and vessel delays upwards of 14 days are expected in Yantian port,” Maersk said Thursday in a customer advisory.

That came as Chinese health officials reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, with around 50 reported for the week to Wednesday, mainly in the Yantian district.

Joyce Yang, Maersk Asia-Pacific, head of program management, said she expected it “to be a few weeks before the situation got back to normal” at the port.

Mounting omissions, diversions

As a result, carriers including Maersk, fellow 2M Alliance member Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC), CMA CGM, and Ocean Network Express (ONE) are omitting scheduled calls at Yantian through the end of June. Carriers are also increasingly diverting some sailings to Shekou in western Shenzhen and Nansha, about 90 miles west of Yantian. But that has added to congestion issues in those ports, leading to tougher cargo entry restrictions.

Shekou Container Terminal said laden export containers at the three ports in the area — Shekou, Chiwan, and Mawan — would only be accepted up to three days before vessel departure from June 6 to June 13, compared with five days previously. Yantian has imposed a similar three-day cutoff for laden export containers during the same period.

Maersk on Thursday said 23 ships operating on trans-Pacific, Asia–Europe, and Africa services would omit calls at Yantian or Shekou through June 27. That’s up from just six sailings the carrier noted in an advisory Monday.

ONE said in a statement it would skip 13 Yantian calls on trans-Pacific, Europe and Intra-Asia services up to June 13, including two vessels that would divert to Nansha. CMA CGM said in an advisory Thursday it would omit Yantian on 13 sailings through June 17, 5 of which would be diverted to Shekou and 3 of which will call at Nansha instead.

Although MSC declined to give further details, the carrier said in a client note it “will also be omitting a number of calls at the Yantian port so as to minimize impact on our vessel schedules.”

Cliff Xu, chief executive of Rhenus Air & Ocean Greater China, told the forwarder has “advised overseas offices and shippers to consider Nansha or Shekou ports as alternatives where possible.”

Xu said Rhenus is also helping shippers “in sorting out booked sailings within three days of vessel arrival at Yantian.”

Shippers moving goods in and out of major Asian hubs faced further disruption on Thursday, when two container ships collided at Yang Ming’s No. 70 berth in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The collision brought down one ship-to-shore crane and badly damaged a second, trapping two dockworkers and slightly injuring a third, according to Taiwan News.

Dramatic video of the incident shows the 8,500 TEU OOCL Durban scraping along the side of the berthed 2,800 TEU, Yang Ming-operated YM Constancy. The accommodation block of the OOCL vessel then hits the extended arm of one shore crane which topples into a second crane before collapsing into the ground.


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