Alaska maritime cargo companies not expecting virus shutdown

Containers full of consumer goods that traveled to Alaska by barge. (Photo by June Leffler/ KSTK)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two of Alaska’s major maritime cargo companies are confident the coronavirus outbreak will not disrupt shipments.

Matson Inc. and TOTE Maritime Alaska LLC send two container ships with hundreds of thousands of pounds of cargo from the Port of Tacoma in Washington state to the Port of Alaska each week, KTUU-TV reported Sunday.

“We’re following all federal, state, and local guidelines, and taking all necessary precautions to ensure a resilient supply chain,” TOTE Maritime Alaska General Manager Alex Hofeling said.

Shipments originating from Washington have raised concerns over the possibility of ship crews transmitting the virus.

The number of positive cases in Washington state Monday rose to more than 900 including 48 deaths, health officials reported.

But Matson and TOTE crews follow strict health protocols dictated by the Centers for Disease Control and regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, officials said.

The protocols minimize risks of transmitting the virus and allow the companies to continue providing critical cargo services to Alaska’s deep-water port, officials said.

The companies do not allow crew members to have contact with people beyond the ship during the transport trips, officials said.

“Anyone that is sick would have to be quarantined or they wouldn’t be brought onto a ship,” Matson Senior Vice President Bal Dreyfus said. “All of that would be reported to the C.G. so that they’re aware of it.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. The world’s coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 180,000 people and left more than 7,100 dead.

There is no indication health officials plan to close the supply chain from Tacoma to Anchorage, but Hofeling said TOTE would notify the public of any regulatory changes.

“TOTE will work with all federal state and local authorities to ensure that we continue to support and act as the critical link to Alaska,” Hofeling said.

Goods shipped through the Port of Alaska service more than 85% of Alaskans. Around 74% of the waterborne freight entering Southcentral Alaska comes through the port, according to its website.

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