After grazing past Puerto Rico and then devastating parts of the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian is now set to move along the coastline of the U.S. East Coast over the next few days. Anticipating storm surges and severe winds, major container ports including Savannah and Charleston have preemptively shut down operations for multiple days, likely bringing container traffic on the southeastern coast close to a standstill. While Hurricane Dorian, the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, is not expected to make landfall on U.S. territory, it may cause disruption as far north as Virginia as it pursues its northeasterly path.
The Bahamas devastated, Puerto Rico spared
Last week, Hurricane Dorian caused limited infrastructure damages on Puerto Rico’s main island, but still forced its main port San Juan to close for about 36 hours on August 28 and 29. While Puerto Rico has been largely spared from substantial damages, at least 7 casualties have already been reported in the Bahamas, where 13,000 buildings were devastated. As of this writing, millions of people remain without power and dozens of roads are covered by water and debris. Freeport, a major transshipment hub in North and Central America, has shut down all vessel and truck traffic since August 30, with no reopening date in sight. Container lines have thus been forced to omit the port and look for alternative ports to transship cargo, likely leading to substantial delays due to limited or missed vessel connections.
Container gateways to face congestion
As a hurricane landfall in the U.S. looks increasingly unlikely and manufacturing and retail facilities are expected to remain mostly intact, supply chain professionals should now brace for prolonged logistical delays. Since August 31, port operators and shipping companies have started to advice of multi-day port closures and week-long vessel delays due to the storm. Besides Freeport in the Bahamas, the most important ports affected by Hurricane Dorian are container gateways Savannah and Charleston, the second and fourth largest U.S. East Coast ports in terms of TEU throughput.
Some ports have yet to set an official reopening date, indicating that an extended period of disruption is likely. As ports remain shut, knock-on effects such as berthing and yard congestion, port call omissions and diversions, as well as missed vessel connections are likely to delay import, export, and transit shipments, raising costs and prolonging shipping times over the next few weeks. Below is a summary of the current operational statuses of major ports in the U.S. and the Bahamas.
Dorian to move away from the coast by September 6
As of September 4, Hurricane Dorian has weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 2 hurricane and is located about 200 miles (321 km) southeast of Jacksonville, Florida. The storm is forecast to move along the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina from September 5 to September 6, bringing storm surges, heavy rainfall, and dangerous winds to the coastline. Although Dorian is not expected to make landfall any longer, its path and intensity may change again.
Customers should activate hurricane preparedness plans to mitigate the impact from a prolonged logistical disruption caused by multi-day closures of major container gateways. As part of a proactive approach organizations should liaise with logistics partners to anticipate modified shipping times due to diversions and use alternative trucking services or emergency air freight for time-critical shipments. In addition, customers should remain vigilant as to potential disruptions at key manufacturing locations due to damages from wind and flooding. Customers are also advised to monitor further developments on Resilience360.