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April 1, 2020 10:15 AM, EDT

Shipping Container Pileup Could Shut Philippines’ Biggest Port

Parked trucks sit in front of shipping containers and cranes at the Manila North Harbour Port container terminal in March 2017.Parked trucks sit in front of shipping containers and cranes at the Manila North Harbour Port container terminal in March 2017. (Veejay Villafranca/Bloomberg News)

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The Philippines’ largest port could shut in less than a week if shipping containers aren’t moved to free up space for new cargo amid a lockdown that’s preventing businesses from retrieving freight.

A quarantine on 60 million people to keep the coronavirus from spreading has suspended public transport and shut businesses including most banks, making it difficult for importers to pay shipping fees as well as keep warehouses and trucking services staffed. Fourteen ships are waiting for berths or reefer slots with another 25 vessels expected to arrive this week, Philippine Ports Authority General Manager Jay Santiago said by phone.

Crucial medical supplies that will help fight the virus are scheduled to arrive next week.

Usually businesses retrieve about 4,000 containers a day from the Manila International Container Port, but that has slowed to about 1,600 since the lockdown began, according to Santiago. The international yard is operating at as much as 98% of capacity, he said.

Manila is the 28th busiest container port in the world, handling about 5 million twenty-foot equivalent units in 2018, according to the World Shipping Council. Shanghai, the world’s biggest, handled 42 million TEUs.

If shippers can’t retrieve their cargo soon they may lose it. Under draft rules expected to be issued this week, all cargo that has been discharged from vessels for more than a month will be declared abandoned if not withdrawn in five days, according to the Transport Department. Cargo discharged for less than a month will be given 10 days.

The government could also cut down the free storage period to 5 days from 7 days, Santiago said. Beyond that, cargo owners will incur charges and penalties.

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