“It’s one of three or four things having an impact,” said Port of Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester on Thursday, “but it’s definitely having an impact.
Canadian companies shipping frozen seafood to China have seen their refrigerated containers sit on the dock because there are fewer workers there to move shipments into the supply chain, Silvester said. And he told The Canadian Press that the number of cancelled sailings is rising with so much of the Chinese economy effectively shut down due to the outbreak.
“So it’s really on both sides,” Silvester told Postmedia News and adds to some of the trade woes that built up over 2019 that resulted in “the most uncertain year any of us has lived through in terms of international trade.”
Cargo volumes through the Port of Vancouver shrank two per cent to 144 million tonnes in 2019 from a record 147 million tonnes in 2018, largely due to crude-oil exports that dropped by more than half, a 20 per cent drop in canola shipments and a 12 per cent dip in thermal-coal exports.
Inbound container shipments of consumer goods also dropped 2.3 per cent in 2019 from 2018, and continued to slide in January with import traffic levels down 15 per cent and exports off 16 per cent compared with the previous year.
“Volumes are still good, but definitely bellow where we would have expected,” Silvester said.
Factors such as a landslide that blocked CN’s main line, blockades that have halted access to port facilities and poor weather that slows the loading of grain onto bulk-carrier ships have slowed down port traffic.
As of Thursday, the port had a backlog of 48 ships waiting at anchor, which was down from the 57 reported by Postmedia on Monday, but “still higher than we would want to see” at this time of year. Normally, Silvester said, they would expect 30-40 ships waiting at anchor.
The blockades that have restricted access to terminals at various times have also had an impact, but Silvester said police seem to have dealt sensibly with the situations as they arise.
“Obviously it’s their responsibility,” Silvester said, but “from what I’ve observed, they’re doing a good job of carefully and thoughtfully enforcing the injunction that’s in place to keep the port moving.”
The aftermath, however, could still take weeks to unwind, Silvester said.
“It varies by commodity,” Silvester said. “Typically, a couple days’ disruption takes a couple of weeks to unwind. So the fact we’ve got all these different disruptions at once, it’s really hard to predict.”