From the Desk of Capt. Jeff Monroe, MM, AMPE
International Association of Maritime and Port Executives
The Coronavirus has captured the attention of the world as the disease spreads and more deaths are reported. The impacts on world shipping are also being felt. Chinese manufacturing has slowed considerably with workers not producing manufactured goods and shipments dropping off. In Chinese ports, some container ships are sailing with as little as 10% of their normal cargo loads and ocean carriers are suspending calls to several major Chinese ports according to the Wall Street Journal. Carriers are estimated to be losing $350 million USD per week due to decreased volumes. Shipping rates have also tanked with bulk carrier rates at $2,600 per day according to the Baltic Exchange in London and crude tanker rates are down 95%. Container rates have also dropped and Chinese shipyards that were planning for the installation of scrubbers are having contracts delayed due to labor issues and parts shortages according to Bloomberg. The cruise industry is seeing a significant drop off in Far East cruising, previously one of the fastest-growing markets.
As with any unknowns, US consumers are exercising caution even when the real treat of the disease spreading due to surface contamination is nil according to the CDC. Reports indicate a drop off of people ordering goods from China and even avoiding Chinese-style restaurants. The question for us in the industry is what ports should think about when it comes to this rapidly spreading worldwide outbreak.
Have a plan: if coronavirus is detected in your port area, be sure you have plans in place to address the issue according to CDC guidelines. Know who you need to work with and how to contact them. Know what to do if a crewman is detected with the illness.
Be open about communications with your officials and the public. People can see ports as open doors to the spread of disease as they did with terrorist threats. Keep your officials and the public informed about your watching what is happening, limited threat from cargo and crew and that you have a plan in place.
Have someone remain focused on the progression of the disease worldwide and what actions are being taken.
Work with federal authorities on a regular basis to help them understand shipping and logistics so they can accurately assess any potential health threat.
Share your ideas and actions with other port professionals. Iron sharpens iron.
The worst-case situation is to be unprepared. While we see little threat to our public health in North America right now and our public health officials are taking what may be the best course of action at this time as we deal with international trade, misinformation can often arise about perceived threats that are not realistic. Best advice right now: be prepared and have a plan.