Shippers see Japan ports able to keep cargo flowing

Monday, 21 March 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Shippers confident of keeping cargoes moving
  • Japanese ports have enough spare capacity
  • Six Japanese container ports damaged -Alphaliner

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Shipping companies are confident of keeping goods moving through Japan’s ports, using spare capacity at the largest to deal with cargo displaced from those devastated in last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

The automotive and technology industries have been spooked by fears that supplies of key components such as semiconductors will be disrupted by the closure of plants and power shortages.

Japanese ports handled 19 million units -- measured in twenty foot boxes -- of container shipments last year. As much as 7 percent of that had been shut off after the 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami hit northern Japan.

At this point, it looks like any problems in the supply chain will be at the factories themselves, and with the infrastructure for getting goods to the ports for shipping, as the ports worst hit handled less cargo. Trade to the West is driven by consumer goods and manufactured items like car parts. Eastbound container trade includes paper and plastics exports from Europe as well as electrical component items from other places in Asia.

“I don’t think the earthquake or tsunami will have a serious impact on the overall container market in Japan,” said Truong Bui, a Japan container expert at Drewry Shipping Consultants.

Wilh. Wilhelmsen a Norwegian operator of roll-on, roll-off car carriers said it was continuing to operate in Japan, with seven vessels in the area.

“Some have loaded and sailed, others are on the way to load up ... We have not experienced any dramatic delays. It is not unusual to juggle with cargoes and volumes. We are flexible and can adjust,” an executive at the firm told Reuters.

DHL, which operates close to 220 commercial and dedicated flights per week in and out of Japan, said it had been delivering again.

“I think we’re the only ones operating, so our volumes are very, very strong, and we anticipate that to continue. We haven’t dropped any capacity in and out of Japan,” said Chris Bresnahan, head of EVP - Network Operations, DHL Express Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa.

“There is a shortage of gas, but we have enough supplies to continue operating, and haven’t seen any great issue for us.”

Reconstruction at some of the 13 ports severely damaged by the quake is already underway, with some operations due to resume soon, a government official said.

Container freight consultancy group Alphaliner said at least six medium-sized container ports were reported to be badly damaged and would be out of operation for the next few months.

The ports of Hachinohe, Ofunato, Sendai, Onahama, Hitachinaka and Kashima were all affected, although they handled less than 2 percent of Japan’s total container volumes, Alphaliner said.

Singapore-based shipping group Neptune Orient reported some early disruption in Yokohama due to power outages and a brief closure of its Tokyo office, but said business was now back to normal.

“We operate marine terminals in Kobe and Yokohama, where our ships call. They are fully functional, and cargo operations are ongoing,” Neptune Orient spokesman Mike Zampa said on Thursday, adding it was too early to say if volumes were below normal.

Maersk Line, a unit of Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk and the world’s biggest container shipping company, suspended service to the ports of Sendai, Onahama and Hachinohe.

But it said the ports in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka and Hakata were safe, with no damage reported to its equipment there, and it was operating as normal from these.

“It is still possible to book cargoes from Japan. In the north, ports and terminals have been hit. There is some industry up there, and that is obviously impacted; roads have been hit, so cargoes are not moving,” Maersk spokesman Michael Storgaard said.

Korea’s Hanjin Shipping told a similar story. It said it had seen little impact on its container traffic to Japan through its terminals in Tokyo and Osaka.

Hanjin’s shipping between South Korea and Japan accounts for only 1 percent of its total business, and its trans-Pacific shipping which passes through Japan was unlikely to be affected, a spokeswoman for the group said.

Maersk says ships to avoid Japan reactor area

LONDON (Reuters) - Danish shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk  said last week its vessels would not enter or pass through an offshore area close to an overheating nuclear plant in Japan.

“We have defined an exclusion zone -- off shore from the Fukushima nuclear power plant -- where vessels are not to enter or transit,” said Maersk group press officer Michael Christian Storgaard.

“As long as it is considered safe, Maersk vessels will continue to call Japan.”

He added that the exclusion zone was a minimum of 30 km. “We are monitoring the situation and it might change.”

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex has been torn apart by four explosions since an earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11 and has been emitting radiation.