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Terminal operators share responses to COVID-19 crisis in virtual chat

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Hamburg Port Consulting (HPC) has provided a virtual chat forum during the COVID-19 crisis to allow the open exchange of experiences for terminal operators during this challenging time.

About 50 select representatives of terminal operators from 18 countries spanning five continents have attended the HPC Online Exchange Forums, conducted during the past month, actively discussing the measures taken in response to Covid-19.

The main focus was on safety, how to protect the workforce and how to organise terminal operation processes and vessel visits to ensure business continuity, as well as how this could affect market developments and growth moving forward.

HPC said that during these chats it was clear that despite the pandemic impacting different terminals at different times, the established measures to ensure employees’ safety and business continuity have been quite similar.

One attendee summarised what was valid to all: “The pandemic was a surprise to all of us, we were not prepared for something like this. But after confusion at the beginning with partly divergent instructions by governments and companies, the terminal management have taken decision with a sense of proportion to safeguard both – health of the workforce and operations.”

Alongside more cleaning, wearing of PPE and staying home if present with symptoms of the virus, many terminals also put in place a ban of physical vessel visits.

Managing the continued need for coordination between terminal and vessel the attendees reported an increased use of EDI technology. Thinking ahead, some called for a collaborative stowage tool that eases the exchange of cargo-related information fortifying the digitalization boost that the situation has brought about.

With regards to operations, HPC noted that “automation seems to be the next hot spot” and some of the terminal operators are working on cost-cutting programmes and implementation of these initiatives in the upcoming weeks.

HPC said that attendees also shared a common view on the market outlook. Volumes are assessed as mostly lower. While blank sailings help to cope with reduced efficiency from safety for some terminals in Europe, others from South America report only few blank sailings.

Uncertainties are fed by the tensions between China and the US. Additionally, a fear of bankruptcy of importers and exporters have been expressed.

An increase of importer dwell time was confirmed by the majority. Export volumes down by 20% for some terminals, the impact on Europe’s shutdown could not yet be foreseen. The majority expressed their pessimism about the second half of the running year in terms of volume development.

This crisis is recognised as a big one, but also as a chance to create more flexibility for the organisation. Continuous investments in infrastructure and digitalization are common strategies shaping the future of smart ports and creating resilience in port logistics.

A remark by one of the attendees was definitely worth sharing said HPC: “This is not the first crisis the terminal industry has to tackle. And it will not be the last one. Knowing this, it also gives the confidence in the own strength and capacity to manage it.”

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