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S. Korean ports overwhelmed as coronavirus stalls cargo throughput

Authorities in the South Korean ports of Busan and Incheon are planning to move excess container cargoes to idle sites as the novel coronavirus afflicting China has delayed container shipments to and from the latter country.

Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, the coronavirus has infected more than 24,000 people in China and killed nearly 500 others. The coronavirus has also surfaced across Asia, parts of Europe, Australia as well as North America.

Anxious governments have taken drastic action by quarantining ships arriving from China, where the Lunar New Year holidays have been extended by up to two weeks from 31 January. This has resulted in shipments being delayed.

South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said that as of 5 February 2020, container storage facilities in Busan and Incheon ports are 70% full, 8% higher than usual.

The minister, Moon Sung-hyeok, met with port authorities, all 14 of South Korea’s liner operators and other non-container ship operators on 4 February to discuss countermeasures.

An MOF statement said, “If the ports’ container storage utilisation exceeds 90%, we will have to move the boxes to nearby idle sites.”

The ministry monitors the ports’ traffic situation every day.

While Chinese passenger arrivals have declined sharply amid restricted access to cruise ships, cargo volumes between China and South Korea, accounting for 30% of South Korea’s total cargo volumes, have been relatively unaffected.

There is concern that the coronavirus may adversely affect the earnings of port and liner operators in the first quarter of 2020.

Moon said: “We anticipate a significant impact to shipping and stevedoring companies because of this novel coronavirus.

Shipping executives who met Moon yesterday expressed concern about long-term disruption to cargo volumes and effects on their businesses.

The industry has been providing information about the increasing accumulation of stored containers to the MOF, to help the government’s monitoring and countermeasures.

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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