Fearing the potential impact on crews, cargo and vessels worth tens of millions of dollars, some of the world’s biggest container shipping lines have restricted or barred their ships from calling on ports in Tokyo Bay over concerns about radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Meantime, ports in China are starting to require strict radiation checks on ships arriving from Japan. And in California on Friday, the first ship to reach the Port of Long Beach since Japan’s earthquake was boarded and scanned for radiation by Coast Guard and federal customs officials before being allowed to dock.
...the Tokyo Bay ports of Tokyo and Yokohama are normally Japan’s two busiest, representing as much as 40 percent of the nation’s foreign container cargo. If other shipping companies join those already avoiding the Tokyo area, as radiation contamination spreads from Fukushima Daiichi 140 miles north, the delays in getting goods in and out of Japan would only grow worse.
The shipping industry’s fears have escalated since port officials in Xiamen, China, earlier this week detected radiation on a large container ship belonging to Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and quarantined the ship. The vessel had sailed down Japan’s northeast coast and reportedly came no closer than 80 miles to the damaged nuclear power plant...
Hapag-Lloyd, a German container shipping line that is one of the world’s largest, halted service to Tokyo and Yokohama after the tsunami swamped Fukushima Daiichi. The shipper has not resumed service to those ports.
...Reuters reported that another German shipper, Claus-Peter Offen, has also stopped calling at Tokyo and Yokohama.
OOCL, a shipping line based in Hong Kong, said late Friday that the company had decided to halt all traffic to Tokyo and Yokohama.
...Merchant vessels may have to be scrapped if quarantined even temporarily for radioactivity, because they would face extra coast guard checks for years at subsequent destinations...
The extra inspections make it hard to keep a schedule...
...Shippers, even if they can avoid radiation exposure, know that cargo coming from Japan is now subject to new delays.
...the ship scanned for radiation at the Port of Long Beach carried about 2,500 containers from four ports: Kobe and Nagoya in the south and Shimizu and Tokyo farther north.
...concerns from dockworkers prompted Coast Guard and customs inspectors to board the Japanese ship in the harbor and scan the cargo for radiation with hand-held scanners. Only then was the ship allowed to dock.
...“One of the problems we’ve been hearing is they have transportation issues of getting things from northern Japan,”
...“Which is why we expect to get a slowdown of autos and auto parts. That should hit us in a few more weeks.”
One of China’s largest ports, Yantian port in Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong, announced Friday that it had begun screening all arriving vessels and containers for radiation if they had been to Japan in the preceding 28 days and if Yantian was their first port of call in China. These vessels will not be allowed to unload until after all screening has taken place.
The port of Hong Kong announced earlier this week that it would begin screening random vessels for radiation as well.
...until the radiation problem is contained, Tokyo and Yokohama are themselves threatened as fully functioning seaports."