Port Canaveral Cutting 40 Percent of Staff Due to COVID-19 Impact

Port Canaveral cutbacks due to COVID-19
Courtesy of Port Canaveral

Published Jul 30, 2020 9:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Port Canaveral, central Florida’s seaport and the second largest cruise homeport, is implementing austerity measures due to the impact of COVID-19 on its operations and the shutdown in the cruise industry. News of these moves comes just a week after the Port Canaveral joined with a broad coalition representing U.S. ports urging the U.S. Congress to provide emergency relief for America’s ports that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Port Canaveral will be reducing its employees by more than 40 percent through layoffs, furloughs and attrition. The Florida Today newspaper quotes the port's director of communications and public affairs as saying that as of July 31 Port Canaveral is reducing its headcount by 115 positions out of a total of 268 employees prior to the onset of COVID-19.

Steve Linden of the port confirmed that the cuts will come all areas of the port authority. The port had previously furloughed employees related to the cruise operations.

In the letters sent to U.S. House, Senate and Administration leadership last week, port leaders issued an appeal to federal policymakers. They said that America’s seaports have been vitally important in supporting the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic keeping fuel, food and critical supplies moving throughout the country, and these same ports are crucial to ensuring the United States is able to quickly recover from the current economic crisis. They highlighted the sever loss of income the ports were experiencing and highlighted reports estimating that the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a direct loss of 130,000 jobs at U.S. seaports.

“Ports are struggling to manage the impact this pandemic is having on our ability to continue our critical mission as gateways of commerce,” said Port CEO Captain John Murray. “Seaports, like airports, need emergency relief to maintain our state of readiness and to ensure we can sustain our role in the nation’s economic recovery.”

Despite having a diversified base of operations including cargo, cruise, recreational and even a spaceport component, Port Canaveral has still experienced a steep decline in business. Approximately six million tons of cargo annually, including bulk, break-bulk, project, and containerized, pass through the port and while cargo operations continue the cruise business shut down in March with some analysts expecting it might not resume until late in 2020 at the earliest.

Prior to the shutdown, the port was expecting nearly five million cruise passengers and was working to expand cruise operations. Major cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean all had cruise ships homeported at Port Canaveral. The port also announced that MSC Cruises would be homeporting two cruise ships there for the 2020-2021 cruise season.

An economic downturn study recently completed by Philadelphia-based BREA (Business Research and Economic Advisors) revealed worst-case projections according to the port. They said that Port Canaveral could experience a 79 percent loss of revenue passengers resulting in an over $1.7 billion loss of total expenditures across Florida. The report projected in that case, 16,000 annualized jobs would be lost with over $560 million in lost wages, and a $46 million loss in state and local tax revenues.

In the current situation, Port Canaveral expects that the laid off employees would not be recalled until late in the year. The news of the staff cuts came within hours of the U.S. Coast Guard ordering Port Canaveral to condition Whiskey in preparation for a potential tropical storm or hurricane. The port is preparing for heavy weather with ships in port told to head to sea or request special permission to remain in port. The port remains open but continues to monitor the advancing storm.