Thursday, 31 March 2011

Radiation fears see some ships avoiding Tokyo Bay ports.

As radiation fears rise after the near meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant after the March 11 earthquake off Japan, some companies- particularly German companies- are now not sending their ships to the Tokyo Bay area. Reports say that Japan could face ‘severe supply chain bottlenecks’ if ships are diverted. Reuters reports that companies like Hapag Lloyd- the world’s fifth largest container shipper- and Claus Peter Offen are amongst those avoiding the area. Ships are also not calling Yokohama. "We don't want to take any security risks," a Hapag-Lloyd spokesperson said yesterday. Shipping company Hamburg Sued has resumed calls to Tokyo and Yokohama after stopping them for a day. "We are looking very closely at the weather situation," a company spokeswoman said.

The German government has recommended that ships stay about sixty miles away from the Fukushima nuclear plant area to avoid radiation exposure to crews. Offen points out that radioactive contamination of a container ship and its load were not covered by insurance. Analysts warn that logistical issues due to these developments would result in delays and port congestion that could have a significant negative impact on Japanese recovery after the earthquake that devastated parts of the country two weeks ago. Says Tim Wickmann, CEO of MCC Transport, an A.P. Moller Maersk subsidiary, "The last thing Japan needs right now is for people to abandon them." He added, "I think that shippers around Asia in such case will stop their cargoes to eastern Japan. They will hold the cargo at various ports -- Korea, Taiwan or other nearby ports." Such a move would see container shipments to eastern Japan come to a halt.

MCC Transport has continued normal operations so far. "As long as the authorities consider the port safe, we want to go. But of course if you have a crew that refuses to sail the ship, what can you do?" asked Wickmann.

Fears in Tokyo rose sharply earlier this week after the Japanese government advised its 13 million residents not to give infants tap water. The world’s third largest economy is still coming to grips with the aftermath of the disaster; although experts say that the situation at Fukushima seems to be contained for now, many expats and locals have either been evacuated from the country or have moved from Tokyo to safer areas in the south.

Fifteen Japanese ports were severely damaged in the earthquake and tsunami. Twelve of those ports “were already usable for recovery efforts and general use”, the Japanese transport minister said recently. Shipping agent Inchcape says that most of Japan’s oil terminals remain open, except for those at Kashima, Onahama, Sendai and one partially operational one at Chiba.

That may be so, but normal crude and product trades have nonetheless been severely disrupted. Tanker owners are waiting and watching anxiously. The fluid situation in Japan- not to speak of the Libyan and Middle Eastern crises- is no doubt giving many of them sleepless nights.


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