The Port of Savannah will close to drivers on all Saturdays this month due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has slowed the flow of cargo to businesses shut down amid the pandemic.
The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) initially planned to close the Garden City Terminal on two Saturdays in April, but has extended that to all four weekends. The port doesn’t operate on Sundays.
GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch told JOC.com that Saturdays are by far the slowest in the terminal, so eliminating truck hours would have minimal impact on beneficial cargo owners (BCOs). Nevertheless, it’s a necessary step because his worst case scenario of the retail sector shutting down is coming to fruition.
“That was probably my biggest concern. And I am not even worried about April. It is not even on my radar. I am now worried about what's going to happen to May, June, and July," Lynch told JOC.com. “This is going to be a much greater issue than we wanted. It's gonna be deep and it's going to be wide and it's going to hurt.”
Although March volumes won’t be released for a couple weeks, Lynch previously said he anticipates a 20 percent decline year over year. He said it’s too early to get a firm grip on April, but his early guess is a nearly 15 percent decline.
Truckers OK with the reduced hours
Robert Burnsed, executive vice president of Atlantic Intermodal Services, agrees that closing gates in Savannah on Saturdays makes sense given how disjointed supply chains have become in recent weeks.
“With the freight being down, truckers should be able to pick up arriving cargo within the free time between Monday through Friday,” Burnsed told JOC.com. “[But] we believe there will be a surge of freight coming in soon in order to restock shelves as consumers are able to get out and make normal purchases. We trust that the port will reopen on Saturdays to accommodate [when volume picks up again].”
Ben Banks, vice president of drayage business TCW Inc., said Savannah volumes have been constant, but that is poised to change given his expectations for April.
“Volume has been holding steady, but we are at the edge of the cliff right now. The next four weeks are likely going to be fairly brutal,” Banks told JOC.com. “With nearly all of our manufacturing clients closing their plants stateside in recent weeks and many closing plants abroad three to four weeks ago, international intermodal volumes for us will be plummeting.”
Difficult times ahead to maintain cargo fluidity
It’s a difficult period for US ports, which could see a brief surge in cargo volume, but otherwise may experience a double dip if non-essential businesses do not reopen this month. Ocean carriers have already announced blank sailings for April that should further slow business into US ports in the next three to six weeks.
There has also been a rise in detention in transit (DIT) requests, a rarely used tool BCOs can use to ask an ocean carrier to slow the final delivery of a container, given how many factories and brick-and-mortar stores are closed.
Mediterranean Shipping Co. on Tuesday announced a “Suspension of Transit” (SOT) program at six transit hubs in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Under the program, MSC will move and store the goods outside marine terminals in Bremerhaven, Germany; Busan, South Korea; Abdullah Port, Saudi Arabia; Lomé, Togo; Rodman PSA Panama International Terminal; and Tekirdag Asyaport, Turkey. Cargo owners using the SOT program can avoid higher box detention and terminal demurrage costs in the US.