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Seattle cargo terminals close as coronavirus and trade war kills cargo

Longshoremen work below container gantry cranes at the Port of Seattle's container yard at Terminal 18, the Space Needle can be seen, behind. Seattle cargo terminals close amid coronavirus-linked shipping decline. (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times/TNS)

PortandTerminal.com, March 15, 2020

SEATTLE — The Seattle Times is reporting that two Seattle marine cargo terminals shut their gates Friday, and one stopped all operations — the first time in five years a Seattle terminal has done so. So few shipping containers are coming from China there was no reason to keep them open.

The combined effects of the coronavirus and the U.S.-China trade war have caused cargo volumes to fall by as much as 30 percent compared to this time last year, according to Bob Watters, senior vice president of terminal operator SSA Marine.

READ: Port of Baltimore reducing hours and closing cruise terminal

Trucking gates at Terminal 30 and Terminal 18, both managed by SSA Marine, were closed Friday. Both trucking and maritime operations at Terminal 18 will halt every Friday for the foreseeable future “due to ongoing volume declines,” says a statement on the website of The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which oversees the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma dockside operations.

The last time Terminal 18 was closed was in 2015, when 200 environmentalists protested the arrival of a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig.

The immediate cause of the temporary shutdown was that several vessels canceled — or blanked — their sailings in the past week, according to Zach Thomas, the director of the operations service center at The Northwest Seaport Alliance.

This latest news from Seatlle falls on the heels of Friday’s announcement that more than 50 cruise lines are suspending operations to and from US ports for 30 days due to the “unprecedented situation” of the coronavirus pandemic.

READ: Surprising no one, major cruise lines suspend ops. at US ports for 30 days

“The good news is that starting next week, there are fewer voids for the terminals,” he said. “In terms of how full of cargo will these vessels be? That is completely dependent on how quickly China can get production back to normal.”

In the meantime, the terminal closure means less work for truckers and longshore workers.

Longshore workers who are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will continue to receive full-time pay, thanks to the terms of their contract with West Coast shippers.

But nonunion longshore workers — called casuals — have no such guarantee. Nor do truckers, who transport cargo into and out of the port.

Damn. “There’s no safety net for us. No funding or relief. Nothing.”

Zack, Seatlle Longshoreman

“If you’re a truck driver or a casual, you’re being devastated right now,” longshore worker Abin Nellams said. “Especially if you’re a truck driver. You’re in dire straits.”

That’s true, truck driver Nebil Mohammed said.

“The Port has to save money, I don’t blame them,” he said.

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