Egypt protests hampering cargo activities
Ongoing political protests in Egypt appear to be affecting oceangoing trade in and out of the country, according to media reports and statements from liner carriers.
A note from maritime news service Alphaliner suggested that operations at Port Said, Damietta, Alexandria and Sokhna (on the Red Sea) have been severely hampered or suspended due to curfews implemented by the government to stave off the protests, which are aimed at ousting longtime president Hosni Mubarak.
‘Some sources claimed that most ships heading for Egypt had not canceled their calls, but stated that the overnight curfew notably slowed loading operations,’ the Alphaliner release said. ‘The situation might however change on an hourly basis. Traffic at Alexandria and Dekheila reportedly came to a total standstill (Tuesday) and many container shipping lines are believed to search alternative routings for their vessels, either dropping the eastern Med calls entirely or diverting to alternative ports. The port of Damietta is not officially closed, but local sources claim that cargo operations have practically stopped since there are not port workers to operate the terminal equipment.’
Taiwan-based line Evergreen Line said it and its agents in Egypt are closely monitoring the events there.
‘We plan to continue our Evergreen Line services through the Suez Canal, but our priority will be the safety of our crew and ship, as well as the cargo entrusted to us,’ a spokesperson told American Shipper. ‘While the situation in Egypt continues to impact us commercially and operationally, omitting calls at ports in Egypt could be an unavoidable choice.”
“The situation in Egypt is slowly normalizing,” Maersk Line said Wednesday morning.
APM Terminals’ operation in Port Said resumed Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. with reduced labor and was expected to carry on until 5 p.m. The Danish carrier said Damietta is also operating, but in Alexandria there no port operations are taking place.
While there are no commercial restrictions in booking with Maersk Line to or via Egypt, Maersk said, “delay to cargo should be expected. In order to keep the Egyptian terminals operational, some cargo has been held back in transshipment or export ports before being loaded to Port Said, whilst other vessels have been diverted to alternative Mediterranean ports for discharge. Feeders will be given priority to berth as the ports are opening up.”
Singapore-based APL, which released a report in November 2009 on Egypt’s container shipping and logistics potential, said in a customer notice that the protests have affected cargo movement.
‘The Suez Canal remains open for normal operations,’ APL said. ‘Egypt’s ports have shut down or severely curtailed activities. Cargo operations for APL and other container carriers have been disrupted. APL’s offices in Egypt have closed temporarily. Key APL personnel are working remotely to serve customers.
‘APL has developed plans to work around the disruption to cargo flow. In view of port closure, cargoes on board vessels meant for transshipment or discharge at Egyptian ports during this period are being rerouted to Malta or Salalah. Customers affected by events in Egypt are being notified of the disposition of their cargo.’
Earlier this week, OOCL said in a customer notice that it had received no notification on the change of the convoys in the Suez Canal and operation remains normal.
‘However, due to port closure in Damietta and Sokhna, there will be possible disruption to cargo operation,’ the Hong Kong-based line said. ‘OOCL will keep affected customers informed.’
COSCO Container Lines said Tuesday it will begin assessing an ’emergency surcharge’ of $200 per TEU for cargo arriving at the Port of Sokhna.
Meanwhile, Cecil Leong, chief executive officer of Singapore-based customs and trade consultancy Bryan Cave International Trade, said a problem with the Suez Canal ‘has the potential to trigger attempts to circumvent traditional trade routes.’
Political instability, he said, could result in a slowdown of ocean traffic through the Suez Canal and bottlenecks that could precipitate a shifting of trade links and patterns in Southeast Asia.
So far, canal authorities have insisted the protests have had no effect on transits through the key waterway, which is a major source of revenue for the Egyptian economy.
American Shipper chronicled Egypt’s potential in a January 2010 feature.