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South Korean operators and ports execute COVID-19 contingency plans

South Korea has suddenly become the world’s second largest COVID-19 cluster, its liner operators and container port authorities have implemented contingency plans similar to their Chinese counterparts, in response including homeworking for staff and emphasising hygiene.

A spokesman for Hyundai Merchant Marine, South Korea's foremost liner operator, told Container News the company has implemented work-from-home arrangements while arranging for other staff to be split between the main office and alternative locations.

Container News understands 80 HMM staff have been told to work from a location near the company's Seoul office, in case the headquarters is hit by an infection.

A tenth of HMM's staff have been designated to issue bills of lading, arrange urgent shipments and receive and pay out monies, if the headquarters are affected.

Heung-A Line, formed from the merger of the container shipping businesses of Heung-A Shipping and Sinokor Merchant Marine, has limited external meetings and has remote working arrangements for its headquarters.

COVID-19 surfaced in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but has spread worldwide, with more than 88,000 infections and 3,000 deaths.

South Korea’s COVID-19 cases surged from 18 February, with health authorities tracing these to a sect whose members visited Wuhan in January 2020.

As of 3 March, there are more than 4,200 COVID-19 infections in South Korea and 22 persons, all with pre-existing health conditions, have died.

South Korean port authorities are also taking precautions due to the many cargoes and foreign seafarers that enter the country. Busan port authority has split its workforce into alternative sites and batches of staff have meals at 20-minute intervals, to minimise crowded gatherings. Incheon Port Authority has adopted similar precautions.

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted factory output, shipping and port operations, costing billions of dollars in world trade.

Acknowledging the impact on the shipping industry, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) said port fees will be halved for the next six months, effective 2 March.

Separately, the MOF has identified empty containers as a possible carrier for the virus. Testing and cleaning of empty containers accumulating in the country's ports will be carried out to limit the spread of the virus said the MOF.

Martina Li
Asia Corrspondent

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