Houston — The Port of Houston will re-open both of its container terminals Thursday evening after shutting them down Wednesday because a worker who had been at both sites tested positive for the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus, the port said Thursday.
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The port said in a statement that it had conducted a joint investigation with the International Longshoremen's Association, the union that represents the afflicted worker, "which indicated that his exposure to others was fairly limited."
The port said it would re-open the Bayport and Barbour's Cut terminals for vessel operations at 7 pm CT Thursday, and resume normal overall operations, including trucks coming in and out of gates to deliver or retrieve containers, at 7 am CT Friday.
The port said further that others with whom the hospitalized worker had been in direct contact over two days were in self-quarantine, and others at lower risk because of social distancing from the worker "have been advised."
Decisions on demurrage, or extra costs incurred by ships waiting to dock during the shutdowns, had yet to be addressed.
The global coronavirus outbreak has affected supply chains worldwide, and logistics providers along the Houston Ship Channel have been concerned about a growing shortage of containers after ocean services from Asia, mainly China, fell sharply since January. Fewer containers coming into the US means fewer empty containers to fill with exports, from plastic resins to other materials, sources said.
The closure came as a blow to those shipping lines that operate trans-Atlantic services, which had been largely been unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks compared with those from North Asia, which have had to deal with lockdowns at Chinese ports. This was in addition to the slow return to work for Chinese manufacturing as a result of lengthy quarantine periods. These appear to have eased significantly over the last few days, with China almost back to pre-Lunar New Year manufacturing, and exports starting to increase to fulfill the backlog of orders.
SECOND-LARGEST GLOBAL PETROCHEMICAL PORT
The Port of Houston is the second-largest petrochemical port in the world behind Rotterdam, and the largest chunk of all exports that ship out -- nearly 34% -- are resins and plastics such as polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polypropylene. Chemicals and minerals make up the second-largest chunk of all exports from Houston -- 17.8%.
The rest include automotive, food, and drink, retail consumer goods, machinery, appliances, fabrics and raw cotton, steel and metals, clothing, hardware and construction materials, and furniture, according to port statistics.
The port informed customers earlier Thursday through an email seen by S&P Global Platts that the terminals were undergoing a deep cleaning.
The email said port personnel were working 24 hours a day to prevent the virus from spreading.
Sources had said that if the terminals reopened by early next week, the disruption in resin exports may not be serious, but a longer shutdown could lead to backups at resin packaging warehouses and rail storage-in-transit yards, further hampering future exports.
A shipbroker source had said the port was expected to bring the terminals back online quickly.
"Can't survive losing the supply chain and I think that everyone recognizes that, so they'll get it back up ASAP," the source said.
The port's city docks and more than 200 other private terminals along the ship channel remain operational, the port said earlier Thursday. A steel market source said no impact was seen for steel logistics, and "city dock is still open and we are expecting some ships to unload some steel later in the day."