COVID-19 infection halts Ningbo container terminal, further straining supply chain
A terminal at China's second-busiest container port, Ningbo Zhoushan, suspended operations Aug. 11 after a port worker tested positive for COVID-19, fueling worries that export cargoes will be further delayed heading into the August-November peak season for shipments to the US and Europe.
Meidong Container Terminal halted inbound and unloading services from 3:30 a.m. local time Aug. 11. A similar outbreak at Shenzhen's Yantian port in May curtailed operations for a month, contributing to severe congestion at nearly all major North American ports in early August as Yantian ramped up operations to clear backlogs of cargo.
"With this sudden suspension, we expect a delay in planned sailings that might affect your cargo planning," German shipping firm Hapag-Lloyd said in an advisory Aug. 11. "Please know that we are working on alternatives and hope for your understanding on a matter that is beyond our control."
Meidong terminal is part of the Meishan bonded area used regularly by Ocean Alliance members Cosco, Evergreen and CMA CGM.
A US-based freight forwarder noted that any halt of Ningbo port operations is likely spill over to the world's busiest container port complex at Shanghai, which sits just opposite of Ningbo in the Hangzhou Bay in East China and is the likely alternative for some export cargoes that were planned to depart from Ningbo, as well as many arriving ships.
"Shippers are already getting very antsy about Black Friday coming up," a US-based freight forwarder said, referring to the typical late-November start of the year-end holiday shopping season. "We are all dreading any further canceled sailings."
The impact of the Yantian outbreak on South China port operations and container ship carrying capacity from the region contributed to North Asia-to-West Coast North America spot rates rising to an all-time high at $7,900/FEU Aug. 11 from $5,500/FEU June 1, according to S&P Global Platts.
The were 30 ships at anchor in the San Pedro Bay near the Los Angeles/Long Beach container port complex Aug. 11, according to cFlow, Platts trade flow software. The busiest import hubs in North America are already facing the worst congestion in several months stemming from the earlier Yantian port outbreak in China.
There were 38 ships at anchor in the Ningbo Zhoushan Anchorage Aug. 11, with another 30 at anchor in the Majishan/Shulanghu Queue, according to cFlow. Congestion at Ningbo Zhoushan and Shanghai was already worsened after the region was hit by typhoon In-fa in late July, delaying the loading and unloading of container ships.
The Port of Ningbo Zhoushan handled 16.07 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in the first six months of 2021, an increase of 21.3% from January-June 2020, according to China's Ministry of Transport.
Over the same period, container volumes at the Port of Shanghai increased by 14.4% to 22.94 million TEUs, while throughput at Shenzhen rose by 24.3% year on year to 13.76 million TEUs in January-June 2021. But Shenzhen port volumes dropped by 21.6% in June from the previous month following the Yantian port outbreak.
Ningbo Zhoushan is world's largest port in terms of total cargo throughput at 623 million dwt in the first six months of 2021.