The Georgia Ports Authority remains up and running, this week announcing 17 perfect growth in container traffic for February even as it braces for a potentially dramatic decline in March due to the Covid-19 outbreak sweeping the globe.
Still, in recent days leaders have struck a more optimistic note, pointing to healthier bookings out of China as that country gets back to work and the ports’ ability to continue operations under new “social distancing” constraints.
To clear up questions about operations and capacity, Executive Director Griffith Lynch wrote a letter Tuesday outlining GPA’s strategy during the outbreak, summarized as “isolate and operate.”
“The 1,300-acre size of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal is enabling our leadership team to spread our workers out and minimize the risk of possible exposure,” Mr. Lynch wrote, noting that the port continues to run 24-hour vessel operations and terminal services, along with truck gate hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To stem the virus’s spread, crane operators are reporting directly to assigned cranes, bypassing now-closed break rooms and meeting areas. Equipment operators are being armed with disinfectants to be used on controls at the beginning and end of shifts. Staff members are telecommuting using a system designed continuing operations during hurricanes. The International Longshoremen’s Association union is monitoring temperatures of members as they come to work, and the ports authority is aiming to soon follow suit.
“Looking forward, I want to reassure you we are well positioned to deliver powerful support, assisting the flow of import/export cargo, and empty return containers,” Mr. Lynch wrote. “As the country’s third busiest port complex, we clearly understand the importance of keeping our ports operational through this crisis to support the needs of our customers and the nation. Because of recently completed projects that are now coming online, our container terminal has additional storage space, and we stand prepared to meet our customers’ needs at the challenging time.”
The Georgia Ports Authority recently upped its crane count to 36 and opened up new storage space for 400,000 additional shipping containers. It employs 1,360 people directly and drives economic activity supporting 439,000 jobs throughout the state.
Those jobs could be threatened by flagging global trade volumes as economists brace for a near-certain global recession.
China, the state’s top trading partner including imports, is coming back on line just as Western economies go into hibernation to stem the outbreak.
Consumption is expected to take a major hit in the second quarter if not far beyond. Congress is weighing a stimulus package that tops $1.6 trillion and includes direct payments to American adults.