China Holds Back Some Ships from Calling at Wuhan
Date: Friday, January 24, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal
The virus-stricken city on the Yangtze and Hanshui rivers is a major trade hub in central China
China has started holding back some ships from calling at the city of Wuhan, a major trade hub on the Yangtze River, as the country seeks to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus
“There isn’t a central order to stop ships, but more than a dozen that were supposed to call [at Wuhan] over the past two days are held down river,” said Zhang Yong, a tug captain at the city’s port. “There are health warnings to wash hands, don’t touch your mouth and go to a doctor if you feel sick. I wear a mask, people are getting scared and I hope it’s sorted out soon because it will hurt business a lot,” he said.
Barge operators in Wuhan confirmed that fewer ships have been coming into the port and leaving it, causing delays to cargo.
The disruption at the commercial trade center come as authorities expand a expand a lockdown in central China. Beijing halted outbound trains and flights from Wuhan, where the virus originated, on Thursday and announced similar actions in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou.
The attempts to isolate a virus that has killed at least 17 people and infected more than 500 have primarily involved limiting the movement of people. The port precautions show how they could hit China’s industrial economy.
Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million people, is an important river port that handles close to 1.5 million containers a year, along with thousands of tons of coal, steel, crude and fertilizer cargoes. The port also handles tens of thousands of passengers and tourists.
Calls to Wuhan Port Affairs Group, the state entity that runs the port, weren’t answered, but a port official at Huanggang, about 35 miles east of Wuhan, said barge traffic at that part of the Yangtze had slowed down
They are spraying some containers before they go on ships and there is some congestion up the river as ships stay anchored. Big liners keep on coming in, but crews are asked to stay onboard and captains ask customs to wear protective gear before entering the ships,” the official, who asked not to be named, said.
Ship insurers said that ports could be quarantined if the virus spreads.
“Apart from the obvious danger to crew members of contracting the illness at a port in an infected area, port authorities may institute reporting and quarantine measures to guard against the spread of the disease from vessels that have previously called at infected ports, and in the most severe cases of outbreak ports may be closed altogether,” said Rohan Bray, chief executive of insurance major Steamship Mutual in Hong Kong.
Mr. Bray added that the epidemic “would have to escalate substantially before owners could consider legitimately refusing to call at scheduled or ordered ports on account of the safety of the crew.”
Big European liners and China’s Cosco Shipping Holdings Co. said they hadn’t altered their Chinese services, but brokers said they have seen delays in services between Yokohama, Japan, and Wuhan. Some gas carriers were also held back Thursday from calling at Wuhan, brokers said.
Ports in China and elsewhere have remained open in previous disease outbreaks. Asian seaports operated without major disruptions during the 2002-2003 crisis over severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed around 800 people, mostly in China and Hong Kong. Ports in West Africa continued to handle cargo and passengers during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak which killed more than 11,000 people.