Manila ports fear shut down due to continued cargo congestion, slow pull out

31 MARCH 2020, MANILA—Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) General Manager Jay Daniel R. Santiago warned of a possible port shutdown if cargo owners and consignees continue to shun calls to withdraw cleared, ready for delivery and overstaying cargoes.

Santiago said that despite efforts to transfer cleared and overstaying containers from the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) to a facility inside the Manila North Harbor, there are still not enough breathing space for the Manila port terminals to operate efficiently and productively.

Yard utilization at the Manila international ports, composed of the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) and the Manila South Harbor are almost 100% full as majority of cargoes remained idle after the implementation of the Community Quarantine some two weeks ago.

“Ports, specifically the Manila ports, are the lungs of the country’s commerce and trade. These lungs right now are not functioning efficiently due to congestion,” Santiago stressed.

“If we continue to ignore calls to withdraw even only those cleared, ready for delivery, and overstaying cargoes, these lungs are in danger of total collapse, resulting in full-blown port congestion, or worst, a shutdown, and consequently a shortage in the much needed  goods and supplies which are expected to address the demands of the market,” Santiago explained.

“Again, Government is appealing to the consignees, cargo owners, brokers, logistics, manufacturers and other supply chain service providers to help us address this situation by withdrawing their cargoes,” Santiago added.

“We really need to clear these cargoes to accommodate the incoming ones as most of our needs to fight this COVID-19 pandemic are in these incoming cargoes,” Santiago stressed.

Over the weekend, PPA with agencies like the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the Department of Trade and Industry(DTI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), among others, are now looking at measures to prevent congestion at the ports after the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases issued an order to clear the ports with containers.

Among the heavily considered measures include the forfeiture of overstaying cargoes in favor of Government and reducing the cargo clearing period as well as the free storage period from the current allowable time in order to force the cargo owners to withdraw as they will be burdened with heavy fines, penalties and storage fees.

The agencies are expected to come out with a Joint Memorandum Circular to effect the needed yard management at the Manila ports.

As of Friday, approximately 800+ cleared reefer vans are inside the MICT containing perishables like food, medicines and other essentials while approximately 2,000+ dry containers already cleared and ready for delivery remain inside the terminal. This number as of press time has further increased.

As a stop-gap measure, PPA has authorized an area at the Manila North Harbor, the country’s premiere domestic terminal, for the purpose of the immediate and accelerated transfer of all overstaying foreign containers already cleared for delivery or withdrawal to maintain the high operational efficiency and productivity of the MICT while the entire island of Luzon is under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MICT also earlier called for solidarity among all the port and shipping stakeholders in its bid to reduce congestion at the terminal.

The appeal which was signed by the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. vice president Christian R. Gonzales, urged all cargo owners and stakeholders to regularly and continuously withdraw the reefer vans and other containerized cargoes already cleared by the BOC to guarantee that the terminal will be operating under optimal condition.

It added that the longer the wait, the longer the disservice will be to the country as it continues its battle against COVID-19.