Ships avoiding Tokyo port on radiation fears

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 10:47 AM
Ships avoiding Tokyo port on radiation fears

By Randy Fabi and Georg Merziger

SINGAPORE/BERLIN (Reuters) - German shipping companies are avoiding Tokyo port due to radiation fears and Japan potentially faces severe supply chain bottlenecks as vessels get diverted, ship industry officials said on Thursday.

Any logistical setbacks could mean major delays and seaborne congestion at Japan's terminals including Tokyo, hindering recovery efforts in the wake of the March 11 earthquake.

Among those that have stopped going to Tokyo for the time being are Hapag-Lloyd -- the world's fifth-biggest container shipper -- and Claus-Peter Offen, Germany's shipping association said on Thursday. The companies have also stopped calling at the eastern port of Yokohama, close to Tokyo, it said.

"The last thing Japan needs right now is for people to abandon them," said Tim Wickmann, chief executive of MCC Transport a unit of Danish oil and shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.

Container shipments to eastern Japan could come to a virtual standstill if maritime firms decide Tokyo, its fourth largest port, was too dangerous.

"I think that shippers around Asia in such case will stop their cargoes to eastern Japan. They will hold the cargo at various ports -- Korea, Taiwan or other nearby ports," Wickmann said.

Nearly two weeks after the disaster, the world's third largest economy is grappling with threats from radiation leaks as Tokyo's 13 million people were told not to give infants tap water.

Officials with the Japanese Shipowners' Association and other shipping firms could not confirm any ships being diverted from Tokyo.

"We are aware of such talk, but there is no such evidence that we know of," said an official at a major Japanese shipping firm.

MCC Transport has continued normal operations of its four shipping lines to Japan.

"As long as the authorities consider the port safe, we want to go. But of course if you have a crew that refuses to sail the ship, what can you do?," asked Wickmann.

Japan's port infrastructure was left largely unscathed by the earthquake with around 15 severely damaged. Twelve of those ports were already usable for recovery efforts and general use, the country's transport minister said on Wednesday.

REOPENING IN TOKYO

Swedish budget fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz said on Thursday it had reopened six of its nine stores in Tokyo after they were shut earlier this month due to the quake and radiation worries. One store remained closed due to roof damage.

The group will reopen two more on Friday and launch another store, taking its total in Japan to 11, a spokeswoman said.

H&M has resumed shipments to Japan after temporarily diverting deliveries to nearby markets during the closure of its Tokyo stores, the spokeswoman added.

(Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, writing by Jonathan Saul)