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Workers at Portland terminals take extra safety measures while loading and unloading cargo.

PMG FILE PHOTO - As of Thursday, March 19, the outbreak of COVID-19 had not had a severe impact on Port of Portland operations. But officials said they cannot predict how long that will be true. The roughly 400 longshoremen who load and unload cargo ships at the Port of Portland continue to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Troy Mosteller, secretary-treasurer for Local 8 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said Thursday that, as with each workplace, precautions are being taken to keep dock workers safe.

So far, calls by oceangoing ships to the Port of Portland's terminals remain steady, in most regards. Mosteller said there has been only a slight reduction in work in the past couple of weeks.

According to Susie Rantz, spokesperson for the Port of Portland, the only significant change seen so far was a 20% year-to-year drop in automobile deliveries in February, a decline she said is likely a result of factories being shut down in Asia because of the coronavirus.

February grain exports from Portland were the third most over the previous 12 months, Rantz said, though she did not immediately know the precise tonnage.

In January, the most recent month for which statistics are available, 30 oceangoing vessels stopped at the Port of Portland. That is four fewer than in January 2019, but just one below the average over the previous four years. In terms of tonnage moving through the port on oceangoing vessels, January 2020 was down 24.2% from January 2019.

Mosteller said the safety of longshoremen is always a top priority. ILWU Local 8 is asking employers to provide extra gloves and hand sanitizer for longshoremen. They also are asking union members to limit contact with crews on vessels and clean all equipment before, during and after shifts worked. The union also recommends that any longshoreman who feels at all sick remain home and contact the doctor.

Rantz and Mosteller each said it is difficult to predict how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact port business going forward.

With only one container shipping company serving the port, Portland is considered a niche port in the industry. Larger West Coast ports, such as Long Beach, California, have seen a significant drop in business because Chinese shipping companies are not making calls to U.S. ports.

SM Line began making regular stops in Portland in January — the first time since 2015 the port has had a container shipping company make regular calls. On Tuesday, a SM Line container ship made its regular weekly stop at Terminal 6. The South Korean shipping company is the first to visit Portland on a regular basis after the port went four years with little or no container service.

The SM Line containers leaving Portland typically export agricultural products such as hay and animal feed, as well as wood and paper products. Incoming containers off-loaded at Portland contain a variety of products including auto parts, household items such as furniture and bedding, plus apparel and footwear.

During this week's SM Line Portland stop, 600 containers were moved, though Rantz did not have a precise breakdown of how many of those were imports and how many were being exported.

Rantz said traffic has remained steady at Terminal 5, which serves bulk grain carriers.

Terminal 6, which handles large breakbulk items in addition to automobiles and containers, recently received a shipment of wind turbine parts.

In 2019, 402 oceangoing ships called at Port of Portland terminals. A total of 9,694,017 metric tons moved through the port last year.

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