As of the start of April, all of DP World’s terminals in the Americas region are operating in full and the company is confident that its action plan will enable trade to keep flowing through the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the early stages of the outbreak, the terminal operator has worked with health authorities, governments and unions across the Americas to establish protocols to maintain the health of essential workers such as stevedores and to receive special exemptions to keep essential goods moving.
The safety practices include sanitising equipment, giving stevedores gloves and masks and testing anyone who enters a terminal for temperature while in some cases using thermal imaging.
A record of each entrant’s temperature is kept and if symptoms are identified, that particular person is required to self isolate for 14 days if necessary. Meanwhile, non-essential people such as administrative staff are all working from home.
Investments in technology in recent years have also enabled some operations of cranes to be carried out remotely via a joystick, for instance at DP World Santos for pulp handling.
Marcelo Felberg, chief financial officer at DP World Americas, told CM: “The most important thing is safety. We are doing everything we can to protect our people and the others around. We can only keep the business open if people feel they are safe to go into the terminals and handle the cargo.
“But it’s also a very critical role to enable the continuation of trade even in times of crisis. Ports cannot simply shut down. We have to make sure that goods reach supermarkets and hospitals so people will get food and medicines.”
While the onset of the crisis initially led to the shutdown of Chinese factories and therefore blanked sailings from Asia, economies in the Far East are getting back on track, leading to the reintroduction of services.
However, the deepening of lockdowns in Europe has led to a drop in demand, making blanked Atlantic services a possibility in the months ahead.
In Felberg’s opinion, the operator’s portfolio across the Americas has considerable resilience due to the significant amount of food exports its terminal handle, particularly with regards to the reefer trade in Chile, Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
The company’s investments in logistics over the last few years give it added flexibility in times of crisis, he added, with logistics businesses already in operation in Caucedo and Peru while similar operations are starting up in Ecuador and Chile.
He stated: “We can move the boxes to our logistics warehouses and avoid congestion in our terminals. When economies bounce back from COVID-19 and the cargo starts coming back, that could create a huge bottleneck and congestion in the terminals.
“Because of our logistics investments, we can allocate and move some of the containers. We will be able to create and provide solutions to our customers to avoid bottlenecks.”
Felberg is also confident about DP World Americas’ financial capability to handle a potential liquidity squeeze, noting: “We are not over-leveraged at all. We have a good cash position in out terminals and what we have in terms of investments in the region is project finance.”
The company is moving ahead with its planned investments, which feature three major projects in the next two years at terminals in Canada, Peru and in Caucedo in the Dominican Republic, which received new gantry cranes within the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, DP World is still operating its terminal in Buenos Aires as normal, where there has been significant uncertainty over the concession process for the modernisation of the port.