Cargo ship crew arriving in Auckland from overseas ports are being told to stay on board their vessel to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19.
Under alert level 1, crews at sea for more than 14 days who have not declared illness are allowed to disembark, but Ports of Auckland says that’s too risky without health checks. Photo: 123RF
Ports of Auckland banned general shore leave for all seafarers arriving in the city when the country went into lockdown.
Under official rules for alert level 1, crews at sea for more than 14 days who have not declared illness are allowed to disembark with no health checks required.
But port spokesperson Matt Ball said this was too risky and it had asked the Ministry of Health for an assurance health checks will be made.
“They can simply walk out into downtown Auckland. There are no health checks or anything like that.
“It’s part of the international rules around shipping and in normal times it’s perfectly fine but at times like this there is potential, we think, for illness to get across the border so we’ve taken steps in addition to the official advice to prevent that.”
Ball said about 10 cargo ships per week arrived in Auckland, each with up to 20 crew on board, and in the last week there had been several cases of crew members arriving and reporting illness.
There had been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 coming through the port via freighters.
But the fact that crew members were reporting illness showed there must be roots of transmission from another port, with the potential for the illness to incubate for a while and be passed on to crew mates, he said.
“We think this needs to be explored fully to make sure that this route is completely closed off.”
He said the port was waiting on further guidance from the ministry about conducting health checks.
Ports of Auckland banned shore leave for crew arriving from Covid-19 hotspots early this year, and a blanket ban has been in place since the country went into lockdown.
“It’s important for the welfare of these crew that they are allowed to go onshore as long as it’s safe and that’s what we’re concerned about.
“We want to make sure it’s safe for the crew and the community,” Ball said.
Ship crew are free to come ashore if they meet health and isolation conditions, except in Auckland where the port company is the only one to ban routine shore leave due to Covid-19, under alert level one.
Elsewhere, if a ship has previously been at sea for 14 days and declares no relevant health problems among crew, there is no test or physical Covid-19 control as they come ashore.
“The Minister is currently seeking advice on further tightening up these requirements,” said a spokesperson for the Minister of Health David Clark, in response to a query from Stuff.
Major ports contacted by Stuff, at Tauranga, Wellington and Lyttelton follow the Ministry of Health and Maritime New Zealand rules, with decisions on shore leave, made by local public health authorities.
Ports of Auckland (POAL) is the only location where the port company made itself one of the gatekeepers, and it does not allow crew to come ashore, due to Covid-19 risk.
“We’re restricting general shore leave because we feel there are insufficient border controls in place and allowing general shore leave would be an unacceptable risk to the community,” said POAL spokesman Matt Ball.
“Crew of foreign vessels must not be transported onto or from the Ports of Auckland without permission from a General Manager from the Ports of Auckland, Customs and Auckland Regional Public Health Service,” said POAL’s ‘Covid-19 Controls for Contact with Visiting Foreign Vessels – alert level 1’ guide.
In a statement, a Port Taranaki spokesman said berths had been busy with methanol, log, bulk feed, and petrochemical vessels visiting the port, and ship crews were taking the opportunity to get off the water, stock up on provisions, and discover New Plymouth.
The “14-days at sea” criteria prior to a ship arriving at its first New Zealand port, is considered to be a Covid-19 self-isolation period under the guidelines applying to shipping.
“Shore leave is not permitted during the self-isolation period. If the crew need to interact with border or port staff they should follow the advice on personal protection for border staff,” said a spokesperson for Wellington’s Centreport.
A spokesperson at another port told Stuff that crew numbers on cargo ships were small, and at any time shipping companies were highly health-conscious.
Lyttelton Port Company told Stuff that while all shore leave had been banned under Covid-19 alert levels four and three, the decision now lay with Canterbury District Health Board.
“It has been reinforced to Port Companies around New Zealand by the Director of Maritime New Zealand that such leave for crew should be allowed if these criteria are met,” said Phil De Joux, LPC’s strategic engagement manager, in a statement.
The major upgrade of Northland’s rail line can’t continue until the coronavirus lockdown ends, but to keep the plan on track more than 100km of new rail line has landed in Whangārei for when work can restart.
The Government is putting more than $205 million into the region’s rail network, including upgrading the line to Auckland and building a spur line to Northport, the deepwater port at Marsden Pt.
Now, 107.7km of rail track has landed at Northport, where it will be stored until the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted.
All physical work on the upgrade is suspended due to the lockdown but KiwiRail is focused on progressing the project wherever possible, group chief executive Greg Miller said. However, unloading the rail track is not without its problems.
“The Northport team is doing an outstanding job working to unload the rail in smaller teams under social distancing requirements, which both Northport and KiwiRail take extremely seriously given the current pandemic,” Miller said.
“Unloading goods from ships is an essential service as New Zealand needs to remain connected with global freight movements and keep the flow of domestic freight moving. Once the current alert levels drop, we will be able to collect and distribute the rail, ready for it to replace worn-out sections of track.”
KiwiRail teams continue to work from home to co-ordinate the massive project and finalise design details.
“Tunnels will be lowered to enable hi-cube container freight to be transported on the line, which will have a huge impact on how freight is moved in and out of Northland,” Miller said.
“We’re also replacing up to five aging bridges so we can run heavier trains, with these larger containers on the line.
“Having the materials, like the new rail delivery, is crucial for delivering this upgrade for the region.”
Improvements to Northland’s railway lines are being made with almost $205 million of funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
A portion of the newly arrived rail will be used for other essential track replacement work throughout the North Island.
Most of the rail will be used to replace existing medium-weight rail, rail in tunnels, and sections of heavily worn rail in Northland.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who is in charge of the PGF, welcomed the rail track delivery.
“I’m really heartened to see the 107,000 metres of heavy-weight rail arriving at Northport, most of which will be used to upgrade the rail line between Swanson and Whangārei,” Jones said.
“The Government is investing almost $205 million into Northland rail – including purchasing land for a potential spur line to Marsden Point – which will help create local jobs and see tens of millions of dollars fed in the regional economy.
“We’re in a very fluid situation with Covid-19. It’s too early to say exactly when work will start but we are getting ready to hit the ground running as soon as it is safe.”
He said when New Zealand emerges from the impacts of Covid-19, the investment in Northland rail will be a welcome boost to the region’s economy.
A “pile-up” is looming at the country’s ports that will restrict the movement of food and medical supplies if non-essential freight destined for closed businesses can’t be cleared, Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett has warned.
“All manner” of freight could arrive at the same time on cargo ships, he said.
“We now have a situation where many businesses that receive some of that freight are closed and there is nowhere for it to go,” he said.
“The issue with non-essential goods is you can remove them from the port, but if there’s nobody at the receiving end at work, where do you put them?’
The Government needed to recognise that “all freight must move” during New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown, and not just essential items, Leggett said.
He forecast “constipation” at the ports and massive problems, if the issue wasn’t addressed.
“This an absolute real live thing.”
Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid said it wasn’t seeing congestion yet, but the forum was “making good points”.
“Under the lockdown rules, it is not possible to deliver non-essential freight.”
A successful outcome would require “innovative thinking and action”, he said.
“We are attempting to assist the government agencies through this where we can.”
Leggett said officials at the Transport Ministry had “definitely listened” to the forum’s concerns, but had said the rules stood at this point.
“If it is deemed by the Government to not be essential, it cannot be moved.
“We absolutely appreciate the reasons for that but if we don’t have an ‘all-of supply’ chain solution to this we believe there will be issues in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Transport Ministry supply chain manager Harriet Shelton responded to the forum’s concerns with an update that said its lockdown rules did allow the movement of non-essential goods “if necessary to move or create space for essential goods”.
Leggett said the forum would not have put out its warning lightly at this time.
Reopening closed businesses to accept non-essential freight would “fly in the face” of the reasons for the lockdown, which were to keep as many people home as possible, he said.
“We do appreciate that, but we need a solution.”
Leggett said another problem was that if containers in which non-essential goods were imported were not emptied, there would be a shortage of containers for exported goods going out.
“All freight needs to move during this time to enable the valuable exports that are going out, such as kiwi fruit, access to ports.”
Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association chief executive Rosemary Dawson agreed that the delivery of non-essential cargo remained an issue that would need to be dealt with to avoid congestion.
“Sea freight was operating fairly normally now,” she said.
But Dawson said she “absolutely” shared some of the concerns expressed by the Road Transport Forum, including with regard to the availability of empty shipping containers.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said it had put in place new measures to allow importers to identify imported cargo required for essential services before it arrived in New Zealand “so that it can be handled and transported first”.
It needed the support and co-operation of importers and exporters to help it manage the flow of cargo “and avoid blocking the path of essential food, medicine, equipment and other supplies”, he said.
Non-essential imported cargo could be temporarily stored on or off-site until it could be collected by truck or transferred by rail to MetroPort Auckland, he said.
Spokeswoman Rochelle Lockely said non-essential freight could be stored near its terminals in Auckland and Tauranga, but once freight went into that “locked stack” it would not be fast to retrieve, so it was important essential items were identified first.
There was a worldwide shortage of shipping containers because of the disruptions caused to supply chains globally by the coronavirus, but that was not something the port had detailed information on, she said.
The port would not charge extra fees for storing non-essential cargo until April 26, apart from one-off handling charges and for power charges needed to keep refrigerated containers cool, Cairns said.
The Road Transport Forum has suggested that some goods that can’t be delivered to closed businesses could be stored on land owned by Kiwirail, but Leggett believed that could only be part of any remedy.
“Closing down the country to the scale we have now hasn’t been done before and it does reveal some issues that need to be addressed pragmatically,” he said.
To illustrate the problem, Leggett said 14,000 cars were expected to arrive from Asia over the next month.
“Those cars cannot stay on the port; they have to go somewhere. The dealers that would normally take them are closed.
“We appreciate cars are not an essential service, however, they are holding space that is needed for essential goods.
“Our industry is looking at how we could find storage for the freight with nowhere to go, but we need the Government to allow that freight to move,” he said.
Leggett said some truck drivers had been stopped by police and asked what they were doing on the roads.
“Well, they are doing a job and it is one that is essential at a time like this.
“They cannot be forced by the Government to be arbiters of what is essential and non-essential on the back of their truck,” he said.
Australian shipping lobby group Shipping Australia has slammed today’s decision by the state of Queensland to introduce restrictions on ships calling at its ports, particularly the container hub of Brisbane.
Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) today banned all commercial ships from entering ports in the state if the ship, or anyone on board, has been in any country outside Australia within the past 14 days.
Contravention of the MSQ ruling is a criminal offence, for which the maximum penalty is A$66,725 ($40,000) for an individual and A$333,625 for a corporation.
Shipping Australia said it understood other maritime authorities in the country were considering similar restrictions, and claimed they could put society as a whole at risk.
“Australian port authorities are now exacerbating an already bad coronavirus situation by restricting the ability of cargo ships to deliver desperately needed goods.
“This is putting Australian families at risk by potentially causing supply chain shortages of medicines and everyday consumer needs,” it added.
Shipping Australia’s chief executive, Rod Nairn, said: “The MSQ policy is reckless and indefensible; cargo ship crews are probably the lowest-risk sector in the world, with not one cargo ship crew member yet being confirmed as having Covid-19.”
The organisation noted that most Asia-Australia shipping services “are only six to eight days’ duration and ships would have to potentially wait around for up to 14 days to enter.
“And that’s at a cost of A$25,000 a day. When a port entry costs about A$250,000 a time, shipping lines are indicating that these directions from port authorities to stay away are simply unsustainable”, it said.
It further claimed that some carriers could be forced to omit port calls, which would “lead to massive relocation of cargo away from where it is supposed to be and it will have to be trucked across the continent.
“Trucking costs could escalate. Australia is a big place – it will take days upon days to get to where it is needed. Costs to everyday Australians could rocket.”
And it also claimed that the restrictions would also hit container supply chains serving New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, for which Australian ports commonly act as hubs.
“Blocking shipping’s ability to deliver desperately needed freight to the islands is not an optimal outlook.
“Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia both have 14-day exclusion periods. So, as of now, the Aus-New Zealand trade is being killed off,” it said.
It might seem like an obvious statement to regular readers of Seatrade Maritime News but despite the global COVID-19 pandemic the world shipping continues to work pretty much as usual round the clock.
As people in many countries find themselves confined to their houses and working from home, we thought it was worth highlighting the shipping industry continues to run as normal, if largely unseen, as usual, to the general public.
Early morning on Friday off Changi point in Singapore on a number of vessels could be seen either on voyages or performing operations at time when most would be yet to start work, even if their current commute consists of little more than walking to the dining room table.
The bulker Ocean Future could be seen performing what appeared to be a transloading operation near Palau Tekong.
The floating crane vessel Asian Hercules sailed through the narrow strait moving from Pasir Gudang, Malaysia to Gul Basin in Singapore according to Marinetraffic.com
The Japanese cruise ship Asuka II was sailing outbound having apparently come dock in Sembawang Shipyard.
Meanwhile at least two other tankers were spotted sailing outbound most likely from Pasir Gudang in Malaysia.
With the COVID-19 situation escalating rapidly, I wanted to update you on the measures the port is taking to secure Auckland’s maritime supply lines. As one of Auckland’s lifeline utilities we are acutely aware of our responsibility to ensure that 1.7 million Aucklanders can continue to get key essentials through the port. We’re also acutely aware that many Auckland businesses rely on getting imports in or exports out via our port to keep their businesses running.
I want to reassure you that we are doing all we can to safeguard our ability to service ships, so we can continue to serve you.
Impact so far:
To date there has been no impact on our ability to operate. Container volumes were down 15% in February as a result of restrictions in China and we expect the same for March. April bookings look firmer now that China is starting to get back up and running, but volumes to other countries may be impacted.
General cargo volumes have not changed much but we do expect vehicle volumes to fall as a result of lower demand and disruption to the vehicle supply chain overseas.
Cruise visits are now suspended, with 30 visits cancelled. In our view, the impact of COVID-19 could last until September or longer.
Our actions to date:
We are doing everything we can to prevent our staff from getting sick. While some of our staff can work from home, quite obviously we can’t run a port without people on site. For that reason, preventing our staff from getting sick is crucial.
We have been operating with increased border controls since January. This has included not handling ships which had called in high-risk areas and/or ships with crew who had transferred from high-risk areas in the 14 days before they were due in port.
The most recent restrictions from Government are helpful. With the closure of the cruise industry, we are now able to focus on handling freight. Shore leave for ship crews has been stopped. International transfers are still allowed, but we have put in place measures to ensure crew do not interact with our staff.
Staff interactions with ship crews is being kept to a minimum and our staff have effective personal protective equipment and training. We are preparing to put in place land-side control measures.
We have also: • Brought forward the provision of flu vaccinations; • Provided clear advice to staff on how to avoid infection; • Required staff returning from international travel to stay home for 14 days; • Banned international business travel • Cancelled non-essential meetings; • Provided additional leave to ensure sick staff stay home; • Provided Employee Assistance Programme support for staff.
Last week we successfully completed the first trial ship-loading operation. A vessel completed its regular container exchange and was then moved to the new northern berth to top-up with empty containers. This went very well and a second, larger practice is planned this week. The recently announced travel restrictions will impact on the go-live planned for the end of the month. We were awaiting the arrival of key staff from The Netherlands who need to be on site for go live, and this is now not possible with a 14-day self-isolation period. We are currently figuring out how we can work around this restriction, possibly through remote access. Reduced volumes through the container terminal have had some upside for automation. We have been able to accelerate staff training and we will be able to bring forward some infrastructure work that is needed for phase 2 go live. We hope that this will allow us to still hit our planned full go live date in late May, early June. Automation could prove to be a crucial tool in our efforts to keep the port operational, especially if large numbers of our stevedoring staff get sick.
What you can do:
We need your help to keep the port open. Ensure your staff know how to protect themselves from infection. If any of your staff are sick or have travelled in the past 14 days, please ensure they do not come to the port. These simple steps will help us help you. I hope this update is useful. I will provide further updates as the situation changes.
The following is an announcement from Ports of Auckland:
In preparation for phase 1 go-live, we have begun trialling small container exchanges on regular vessels using the automated systems.
The first of these took place last night (12 March) and went well. The MSC Lori completed its normal exchange at our FX/FZ berths and was then moved to Fergusson North (FN) to top off the load with empty containers.
This practice run has given our staff and external parties like truck drivers valuable experience with the new system and processes.
We are aiming to complete a second empty loading practice next week, if shipping schedules allow, and possibly a third the week after.
We will then carry out an exchange on a vessel at FN, which will mark the ‘official’ go-live for Phase 1 of automation.
Phase 1 involves turning on the automation on the northern part of our terminal, serving Fergusson North Berth (FN, the wharf with the new cranes on it). We will start phase 1 with one ship a week and gradually build up until we are delivering a full service across multiple vessels handled each week.
We will also trial moving laden imports that have come off vessels at FX/FZ through the automated terminal to be delivered via the A-Strad truck grids so we can build experience and capacity gradually over the coming weeks.
The switch to full terminal wide automation will probably not happen until late June, and only when we have complete confidence in the operation of the automated systems.
COVID-19 has caused many problems worldwide, including reducing our container volumes in February and March. However, the silver lining in this cloud is that the reduced workload has made it easier to train our stevedoring teams in the new processes for automation. We are also likely to be able to bring forward some of the remaining pavement work we need to do before going live in the southern part of the terminal in June.
It is important to understand that the changes we are making at Fergusson Container Terminal are significant in terms of how we will operate in the future. Critically, automation provides additional yard capacity, more stevedoring resource and consistent handling of trucks through the main truck grid. It does not mean more VBS slots during the daytime hours of Monday to Friday, but once fully implemented in the second half of 2020 it will deliver more consistent levels of service throughout the day and night, as well as weekends. Business processes will change, particularly when it comes to managing exceptions. This is new technology and a new way of operating. POAL is leading worldwide innovation by combining a manned (people) straddle operation with automated straddles. From the onset we have to manage the operation carefully and build up our capacity and operations in a way that ensures safety for our people and a reliable and sustainable level of service to our customers.
For any further questions related to Automation please also refer to our FAQ on our website. http://www.poal.co.nz/about-us/Pages/Automation.aspx
We will continue to provide regular updates and please continue to tune into our Website for further updates.
No doubt everyone reading this has already been affected by this virus – supply chain disruption and/or the measures being taken to avoid the spread of this virus through community transmission.
One recommended measure is to work from home whenever possible.
It’s not well known, but for several years Cubic has operated a totally decentralised remote working business model, using readily available technology to maintain a virtual office with all team members visible and audible to all other team members. Our VoIP phone system is an essential part of this.
We have often wondered why many other businesses don’t use the same model. But perhaps this crisis will be the catalyst for change.
For anyone considering this, I am happy to give you the benefit of the experience we have gained over the past few years, and an appraisal of the advantages and disadvantages of decentralised remote working. Call me on 09 3201062 or 021 328689, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
OPINION: So, Donald Trump, under all sorts of pressure in the United States over his handling of Coronavirus, has suddenly turned around and banned all travel of non-US residents from Europe to the United States.
Short of shutting all US borders and ports, this was the worst thing the US president could have done. Up until now Covid-19 look like something that would herald a downturn, but that public health interventions would get on top of. Countries such New Zealand would suffer while the free flow of people was disrupted, but things would stabilise and return to normal in due course.
That could all still happen, but Trump has now ensured that the flow of people will be reduced, airlines will get hammered, trans-Atlantic business will be seriously knee-capped. Global confidence will take a major hit. Like many things the US president does, there is no particular logic evident behind this decision. If Trump wanted to stop the spread of the virus he would have grounded internal US flights. Or banned flights from Europe weeks ago. Now, instead, he has sent a signal to the world – and global markets – that if faced by an unpredictable event, the US will issue a nonsensical and nativist response.
There is a whole industry of White House watchers in the US that try to ascribe grand narratives or strategic nous to anything that Presidents do – including Trump. But if Trump has shown anything during his presidency it is that he is capricious, impulsive and his decisions often lack basic rationality. The only thing he appears to have ever consistently believed is that running a trade deficit makes you a loser. That makes this latest decision even more worrying: it could get tied up in his broader protectionist agenda.
For New Zealand, an open and exposed trading nation at the bottom of the world, this can only be bad news. While any holidaymakers to the US may change their plans and come down to New Zealand on account of being able to actually get in (for now), the fact the we have some Coronavirus cases – although not many – isn’t a great ad. In any case, if New Zealand follows the pattern of many other countries, we should expect more confirmed cases of the virus to pop up after a lull in the 48-72 hours.
The Government’s handling of Coronavirus has improved markedly this week, and the continued low-key approach has been in keeping with the national character.
But with global markets being smashed; a conservative Australian government now spraying around $A17.6 billion in stimulus cash to tourist operators, apprentices, families and pensioners; and the US President giving an unhealthy injection of uncertainty, the Government’s initial economic response expected early next week has taken on a whole new significance. From here it looks likely that this crisis will only get worse – for public health, private wallets, treasury coffers and jobs – before it gets better.