'Overstaying' cargoes clog Manila port, authorities say

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2020 03:00 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2020 11:13 PM

The sun sets while cargo trucks coming from the port area cross Roxas Bridge on R-10 on March 24, 2020. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) -- Companies should withdraw their cleared cargo at Manila Port to prevent its shutdown due to congestion while Luzon is on lockdown due to COVID-19, its operator said Tuesday. 

There are some 800 cleared reefer vans containing food, medicine and other essentials at the Manila International Container Terminal as of March 27. Over 2,000 dry containers that are ready for delivery remain in the terminal, the PPA said.

The number "increased further" as of Tuesday, it said.

Yard utilization at the Manila ports composed of MICT and the Manila South Harbor are "almost 100 percent full" as cargo remained in the facility 2 weeks after Luzon was locked down, PPA general manager Jay Daniel Santiago said in a statement. 

“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 said. 

“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,” he said.

In a separate interview on ANC, Santiago said it might only take 6 to 8 days before the ports reach full capacity.

Once this happens, valuable cargo intended for the country, such as medical equipment and food, might not be unloaded.

"If the terminal won't be able to accommodate the cargoes, it's either we tell them we're not going to discharge the cargoes in the meantime or we're going to tell them to just move on to the next port and then, in which case, the cargoes that are really needed, which need to be discharged in the Philippines won't be discharged and then that's going to be our loss," he said.

The entire island of Luzon, home to half of the country's 100 million population, was placed under enhanced community quarantine until April 12 to contain the spread of COVID-19. During the period, all land, sea and air travel is suspended, except for food, medicine and frontline workers.

The government is considering measures to clear ports including the forfeiture of overstaying cargos in favor of the state and reducing cargo clearing period, the PPA said. A joint memorandum addressing port congestion will be released soon.