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Vietnamese Terminal Suspends Some Operations Due to COVID-19 Surge 

Vietnam suspends terminal operations due to COVID-19 related backlog and worker shortage
The sprawling terminal reports its yard is nearly full a month into the COVID-19 surge (Saigon Newport Corp.)

Published Aug 2, 2021 7:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a month of rising COVID-19 cases across Vietnam, the ports corporation has been forced to suspend some operations at Ho Chi Minh’s largest international terminal and is threatening to stop receiving cargo ships entirely if it can not clear its yard and reduce the backlog. Saigon Newport Corporation said that it was taking the measures because the container yard has reached 100 percent of capacity, while staffing has been reduced by half due to the surge of COVID-19 cases during July.

“The COVID-19 epidemic is a force majeure event,” a spokesperson for the Saigon Newport Corporation told the Vietnamese media. “Saigon Newport Corporation is still trying to maintain the operation of receiving ships, delivering and receiving goods at warehouses and yards in Cat Lai port as well as service facilities in its system.”

Vietnam had been reporting a low case level of approximately 300 per day for months, but in early July the country began to experience a sudden and dramatic upswing in cases. The large cities were placed into lockdown as the government has struggled to gain control and contain the current wave. The outbreak is impacting Ho Chi Minh City, which remains in lockdown, and nationwide the country is now reporting an average of 8,000 cases per day.

"Due to the rapid and unpredictable nature of the Delta variant and in order to protect people and minimize deaths, city authorities have decided to strengthen a number of measures to control the outbreak," Ho Chi Minh City's governing body said on July 23 in a statement according to Reuters. The number of new cases has, however, continued to rise although it maybe reached a high-level plateau.

Saigon Newport Corporation said after three weeks of operation during the virus surge, its workforce has effectively been cut in half at Ho Chi Minh City’s Cat Lai Terminal or just 250 people. The outbreak has created a shortage of port officers and forklift drivers, as well as truckers entering the port to move containers. Vessels, they report, are being forced to wait on berth due to a lack of workers.

Effective August 1, the terminal stopped handling refer boxes and transshipments. Currently, they plan to hold this suspension in place until August 16, and in addition starting later this week, on August 5, extra-long, extra-heavy, oversized, and overloaded cargos will also be suspended at the terminal.

The operators are encouraging carriers and their customers to adjust scheduled and shift cargoes away from Ho Chi Minh’s terminal to alternate ports. They are also requesting all incoming ships to advance notify the port of the estimated volume of import containers and empties on the vessel before arrival for the next two weeks. They are hoping with this information they can proactively arrange the yard to handle traffic, but they are warning if they cannot reduce volumes, they may have to apply a quota on imports or stop receiving cargo ships.

The terminal took these steps as its yard reached near capacity. Saigon Newport Corporation is also asking Vietnamese customs officials for permission to move containers that have been waiting more than 90 days in the port as a means of creating space.   They are proposing to move containers to inland container depots. They said they would be responsible to ensure that the seals remained unbroken on the boxes and for the condition of the goods.

Local officials are blaming the close working and living conditions for the surge in cases among the port workers. They noted that some employees live on or near the port. They also said that lockdowns have been making it difficult for workers living outside the port to reach their jobs at the terminals.