COVID-19: Port of Houston closes two container terminals

COVID-19: Port of Houston closes two container terminals
Port of Houston

UPDATE 20/03/20 15:00 GMT: Following a joint investigation with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) that indicated that the worker who tested positive for COVID-19 had fairly limited contact with others, operations at the two container terminals of the Port of Houston are scheduled to resume.

The Port of Houston has closed its Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals due to an employee who worked at both terminals was tested positive for COVID-19.

Operations at the two facilities have been temporarily suspended while a thorough investigation is being conducted.

The port’s public facilities remain open and the Houston Ship Channel and the 200-plus private terminals that comprise the greater Port of Houston are also still operating.

Meanwhile in Cape Town test results from individuals suspected to be the first cases of COVID-19 in any South African sea-port have come back negative, the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) has confirmed.

The suspected individuals came from two vessels, the general cargo vessel MV Corona and luxury passenger liner AIDAmira, which were initially held off port limits outside the Port of Cape Town.

The cruise liner was later allowed to dock but its roughly 1,700 passengers and crew on board pending test results from one suspected COVID-19 case and seven others who had possible contact with him.

Captain Dennis Mqadi, executive manager for safety health environmental & regulatory oversight at TNPA, said: “These precautions and testing were set in motion after a crew member from the MV Corona bulk vessel fell ill with typical COVID-19 symptoms following the vessel’s departure from the port on March 11.”

He added: “Upon further investigation it was confirmed that the ill crew member had flown to Cape Town from Istanbul, Turkey earlier this month with another MV Corona crew member and that six passengers from the AIDAmira cruise liner had also been on this flight before boarding their vessel in Cape Town.”

Despite only the first crew member being ill, protocols dictated that he and the remaining seven be quarantined on board their respective vessels.

Port Health has now granted clearance for both vessels to continue their journeys from the port.

Ports around the world are continuing to monitor the situation following the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s declaration of COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and, as of March 11, also declaring it as a pandemic due to its rapid spreading worldwide.

ETF, IDC, FEPORT and ESPO have called on the European Union to provide general guidance regarding health contingency measures to be applied in ports and to recommend to member states to take all actions that are needed to preserve health and safety in the port sector.

The above-mentioned organisations have also called on all port companies to ensure that such measures are effectively implemented and to provide all necessary means to protect employees in the workplaces.

In Belgium, the Port of Antwerp held has the first of its weekly COVID-19 taskforce meetings, attended by key players in the organisation of the port, which confirmed that keeping the port operational is a shared priority.

At the time of writing, the port remains 100% operational and the taskforce has expressed its full commitment to the operation of the port and thus keeping the country supplied.

Several points are being monitored, however, such as the different approaches of Belgium and the Netherlands and the availability and allocation of employees to ensure correct functioning of all port services.

Existing measures taken at the port include basic preventative hygiene measures, providing sufficient cleaning aids in machines, having documents exchanged digitally wherever possible and the rules of social distancing to be observed as much as possible.

At the moment, the Port of Antwerp has not seen any decline in the freight volume however it is expected that fewer ships will call at the port in the coming days and weeks due to the outbreak.

It is anticipated that 15 fewer large container carriers from Asia will call, corresponding to 115,000 teu less freight being carried from and to China.

In the UK, some types of trade – such as with Asia – have been disrupted for some weeks although it is expected they will bounce back in the near term.

However, some activity such as cruise is anticipated to be significantly disrupted for some time although many other types of trade are, for now, continuing at near normal levels.

Tim Morris, CEO of the UK Major Ports Group, said: “The UK’s major ports are resilient and have coped with large scale upheaval before.

“Right now, their priorities are the well-being of colleagues and keeping British supply chains moving. Our ports are the gateways for 95% of goods entering or leaving the UK – including, for example, half our food needs  – and are taking a wide range of business continuity measures to ensure that they stay open.”

He added that the most important things that the UK government can do for the major ports sector is to recognise its critical role.