Further Delays at Yantian Port due to COVID-19 Outbreak

The container shipping industry and global supply chains throughout China are facing renewed challenges due to disruptions at Yantian and the neighbouring Shekou ports in southern China near Hong Kong. The province is facing increased restrictions, which are impacting port operations at one of China’s busiest export terminals, due to newly reported cases on COVID-19. 

The increased measures began in late May after cases of the COVID-19 virus were diagnosed among workers within the port. Chinese and port officials implemented stringent restrictions and disinfection routines and this week it appeared that the situation might be improving. Port officials said export would resume from the terminals, although with continuing restrictions.

All the major container shipping companies in recent days have warned customers of disruptions to the flow of containers through the port. Estimates are that there are more than 20,000 TEU now backlogged in the port, with some sources saying as many as 50 or 60 ships are now anchored out. It is sparking scenes of the congestion that built up in southern California in January and February and which the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are just now catching up.

As of today, the situation continues to deteriorate, as further cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Shenzhen, where the ports of Yantian and Shekou are located. Delays of upwards of 14 days are anticipated in the coming week.

The eastern portion of Yantian, which handles the largest containerships, is open but operating at approximately 30% of normal capacity.  The western terminal remains closed entirely. To manage traffic and volumes in the port, officials are also limiting the number of days containers can arrive before their scheduled departure.

Faced with the prospects of continuing backlogs and delays, all the major shipping companies have begun to warn customers to expect delays which if not controlled could reverberate further across the supply chain.

Chinese officials are seeking to reassure the shipping industry, saying they are stepping up testing in the region. They are saying that most of the cases are not in Yantian but instead in the surrounding areas, and they hope to use quarantine programs to isolate the outbreaks.  However, the ongoing restrictions and backlogs are likely to have an increasing impact on container volumes on both the European and U.S. routes as Yantian is an export hub for China.

(Source: Maritime Executive)