Cargo handling continues at US ports despite coronavirus spread

The Port of Los Angeles said all terminals were operational Monday but that it expects volume declines associated with the coronavirus pandemic to continue.

The Port of LA moved 544,037 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in February, a 22.9% decrease compared to last year.

“While cargo volumes are important, the coronavirus is first and foremost a public health crisis that needs to be brought under control with the collaboration of governments and medical experts from around the world,” said Executive Director Gene Seroka in a statement. “We are more interconnected than ever with our global partners so it’s no surprise that trans-Pacific maritime trade has been significantly impacted.”

Seroka said volumes were expected to remain soft throughout the rest of March as factory production in China had not yet returned to normal output.

“Looking ahead to anticipated manufacturing improvements, we will need to return empty containers to Asia and push lingering U.S. export boxes out swiftly,” Seroka said. “We’re actively working with our supply chain partners to be prepared for a cargo surge once production levels ramp up.”

February imports at the Port of LA decreased 22.5% to 270,025 TEUs compared to the previous year. Exports decreased 5.7% to 134,468 TEUs. Empty containers declined 35% to 139,544 TEUs. For the first two months of 2020, total container volumes were 1,350,181 TEUs, down 13% compared to last year.

The Port of Long Beach’s terminals also are open and operating, although administrative buildings are closed to the public through March 31.

“The port’s marine terminals can receive vessel calls and workers can transfer cargo off and on ships under the health-protective directives established early in the crisis by the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the port said.

As of Monday, the JAXPORT administrative office is closed to all visitors until further notice. JAXPORT’s terminals in Jacksonville, Florida, remain open with no restrictions.

Four cruise ships will remain at the port during the cruise industry’s suspension of operations due to COVID-19. The crews will remain on the vessels while the ships are in Jacksonville, unless CBP deems an exception necessary.

PortMiami’s shipping terminals are open for business as well. Port users are encouraged to check the websites of the terminals — Seaboard Marine, South Florida Container Terminal and Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co. — for any changes in hours of operations. 

Another Florida seaport, Port Canaveral, said its cargo flows are continuing as usual. The port did note in a statement that cruise lines’ decision to suspend operations “will have a profound impact, especially for a cruise port like ours.”

While operations continue at Port Houston, a trade workshop planned for Tuesday has been canceled.

“The health and safety of Port Houston employees, customers, partners and the community is always our foremost concern,” the port said in a statement.

The Port of New Orleans’ maritime operations are functioning as normal, but the administration building will be closed until further notice.

“Essential employees have been equipped with remote connectivity to their communications accounts and will be teleworking in order to continue daily administrative functions and services to the extent possible,” the port said.

Harbor police and fire tug personnel will continue to report.

Port of Tacoma Executive Director Eric Johnson said the world is navigating uncharted waters.

“There may be difficult weeks ahead of us,” Johnson said.

“Under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard, the port continues to work closely with The Northwest Seaport Alliance to serve the needs of our customers and stakeholders. We are also following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.