New South Wales (NSW) Ports’ CEO has reflected on the impact COVID-19 has had on the operators’ facilities and how it has led to a greater understanding of the critical nature of ports, freight and supply chains.
The operators’ facilities at Port Botany and Port Kembla have remained open throughout the disruption, operating 24/7 to continue the flow of goods to support everyone in the Australian state.
NSW Ports CEO, Marika Calfas, said: “To cope with COVID-19, port operators moved early to implement processes and introduce new measures that would safeguard critical port workers.
“Given that these roles are specialised, the emphasis was on keeping teams and individuals safe from cross contamination. New measures were also introduced to replace traditional face-to-face document exchange processes with digital processes.”
Across its operations NSW has seen a 6.4% drop in volumes year-on-year for the 2020 financial year up to May due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ships have continued to arrive regularly with minimal disruption at Port Botany and Port Kembla, carrying supplies of foof, beverages, retail and construction goods and manufactured items as well as dry bulk, general cargo and bulk liquid imports of petrol, LPG and chemicals.
Calfas, noted in a statement: “Importantly, unlike many industries which have had to stand down their people, during this time our port workers have remained in employment, working around the clock to facilitate our trade needs.”
From February to May 2020, containerised food and beverage imports increased 2% in NSW compared to the same period last year, likely due to increased consumption of long-shelf life food products which were in high demand during the COVID peak.
Containerised chemical imports increased 13% in the same period due to strength in demand for chemicals feeding DIY activities and cleaning products.
NSW experienced some disruptions to its usual trade flows as a result of actions being taken within China, an important trading partner responsible for around 40% of container imports and 20% of export volumes in NSW.
However, with the re-opening of China and resumption of manufacturing and logistics operations throughout the country in March, NSW has since seen a return to a more regular pattern of container vessels calling at Port Botany recently.
Additionally, the port operator partnered with NSW Health to rollout a first for NSW: a proof-of-concept for ‘rapid mobile COVID-19 screening’ for port workers and ship workers at Port Botany which is still in its “early days”.
Delivered by health workers arriving on-site at the port, COVID-19 screening occurred with test results in just under an hour.
Temporary measures such as removing curfew restrictions for freight deliveries to expedite the stocking of supermarkets and retail outlets were implemented by the government to help ensure ports could continue to serve the community 24/7.
Freight trains were given greater access to the passenger rail network during what would ordinarily be restricted for passenger trains only.
Calfas said: “These measures should be continued in the longer term to deliver community-wide productive benefits, allowing trucks to supply businesses during evening periods, to alleviate pressures on the road networks during peak hours, and freight trains and passenger trains can share the network safely.”