Ocean cargo continues to flow to the Port of Alaska

The Port of Alaska at Anchorage serves as a lifeline for many Alaskan residents that benefit from scheduled container loads of groceries and other consumer products from the Lower 48 states.

While public nerves in the state were rattled by supply concerns when Alaska’s governor on March 27 issued a “shelter-in-place” order to stave off personal transmissions of COVID-19, the state’s port authority and ocean carriers calling on Anchorage insisted that ships loaded with containers will continue to arrive on schedule.

Bal Dreyfus, Matson’s senior vice president for Alaska, said on March 28 that “‘shelter at home’ and intrastate travel restrictions issued for residents of Alaska do not affect our operations, as Matson and the services that support our operations are considered ‘essential businesses’ supporting critical transportation infrastructure.”

 He added, “Matson continues to operate all Alaska service schedules without interruption. Ports are operating normally and we expect no disruptions at this time.”

Matson (NYSE: MATX) container vessels transport containerized goods from Tacoma, Washington, to Anchorage on a twice weekly basis.

TOTE Maritime also provides container/trailer shipping services between Tacoma and Anchorage on a similar schedule.

“We remain committed to our customers and delivering safe and reliable service to Alaska, and we have no plans to change,” the carrier said in a recent statement to its customers. “TOTE Maritime Alaska and Alaska as a whole are no strangers to challenges. We see this challenge as an opportunity to continue to demonstrate our resilience and strength as the most reliable service to Alaska.”

“The Port of Alaska [at Anchorage] is open and operating as normal during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Port of Alaska spokesman Jim Jager told American Shipper by email on April 2. “Matson and TOTE vessels made regularly scheduled deliveries on Sunday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Their next scheduled deliveries are on Sunday, April 5, 2020.”

A TOTE Maritime ship being worked at the Port of Alaska at Anchorage. [Photo Credit: Port of Alaska]

However, both Matson and TOTE crews, which operate under the domestic U.S.-flag ocean shipping rules of the Jones Act, must remain on board when their ships are in the Port of Alaska to observe the state’s COVID-19 emergency response plan, Jager said.

Grace Greene, president of TOTE Maritime Alaska, implemented company-wide policies to keep her employees safe from exposure to COVID-19 in mid-March. “These measures include supporting social distancing efforts by encouraging employees to work from home and increasing measures to limit exposure to our vessel crews at sea,” she said.

“TOTE is taking proper health and safety precautions throughout the organization to protect one another, our crews, our vessels and operations, and the cargo we ship,” the company said in a statement early March.

In addition to Anchorage, Matson said it continues to maintain scheduled sailings from Tacoma to Alaska’s Kodiak (twice weekly) and Dutch Harbor (once weekly) ports. The carrier also said its southbound ship schedules remain normal.

Matson said throughout the COVID-19 pandemic it will continue to work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and other government agencies to facilitate Alaska’s port operations.

On April 2, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Anchorage notified the trade that due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19 its office at 605 West 4th Avenue in Anchorage will be closed for the next 14 days.

The agency said in the interim that import entry summary packages; payments of fines, penalties and forfeitures; duty payments; and petitions, related to ocean cargo in Anchorage can be delivered to CBP’s office at Ted Stevens International Airport.

“The temporary closure will not disrupt operations at the CBP Port of Anchorage,” a CBP spokesman told American Shipper. “CBP remains steadfast in its commitment to facilitating lawful trade and ensuring the security of our supply chains throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”