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Coronavirus’ potential impact on UK ports

As the implications of the Wuhan Coronavirus become clear, the maritime law firm Hill Dickinson and the British Ports Association (BPA), of which the law firm is an associate member, have published a short paper on the virus and its potential implications on the United Kingdom ports sector as part of the BPA’s Port Futures Programme.

Commenting on the Hill Dickinson paper, the BPA’s Chief Executive, Richard Ballantyne, said: “We are beginning to see the impacts in terms of trade flows and there are figures which suggest in the first three months of 2020 there will be six million fewer container shipping movements globally and also the China-Europe trade is expected to fall by 20% during this period.”

Ballantyne added this will mean higher costs for shipping and problems further down the supply chains such as shortages of certain commodities.

Tony McDonach, Legal Director at Hill Dickinson, said: “A port with a quarantined ship or ships alongside is at risk of being designated an unsafe port.”

It is, therefore, important for UK ports to nderstand the rights and responsibilities contained within charterparties, as the charterers are under an obligation to nominate a safe port, and the shipowners must go there regardless of whether there is an unacceptable risk or the port is known to be unsafe.

In addition, McDonach explained that ports should ensure they are familiar with force majeure clauses in their standard terms and conditions, and that they provide adequate cover for business interruptions resulting from a wide-ranging set of scenarios.

The coronavirus has caused some disruptions at Chinese ports due to the lack of stevedores and truck drivers, slowing down vessel turnaround times. Cruise ships in the region are also taking precautionary measures in a bid to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus at sea. Such measures may include enforcing a two week incubation period as was the case for the Diamond Princess and MS Westerdam.

The BPA has been liaising closely with the Department for Transport, following developments closely and has also prepared a guidance note for UK ports as “this is quite an unique and unprecedented situation facing the sector”.

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