Alaska maritime cargo companies confident coronavirus won't disrupt shipments

Published: Mar. 15, 2020 at 8:51 PM AKDT
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Two of Alaska’s major maritime cargo companies, Matson Inc and TOTE Maritime say they are confident the coronavirus will not disrupt shipments.

This should come as relief both for Alaskans who have been stockpiling supplies and for those frustrated over finding empty shelves at grocery stores.

"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.

These companies send two container ships with hundreds of thousands of pounds of cargo from Port of Tacoma to Port of Alaska (POA) every week, on Sunday and Tuesday, according to the POA website.

The fact that these shipments are coming out of Wash. does raise concern over the possibility of ship crews transmitting the virus. As of Sunday there are over 750 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wash., according to the Wash. State Department of Health.

But Matson and TOTE say their crews follow strict health protocols dictated by the Centers for Disease Control and regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Following these protocols minimizes risk of transmitting coronavirus and allows them to continue providing critical cargo services to Alaska, according to the companies.

"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."

The companies also do not allow crew members to have any outside contact -- with Wash. residents for example -- while working on the ships.

Channel 2 asked TOTE’s Hofeling what would happen in a worst-case scenario where health officials close the cargo supply chain from Tacoma to Alaska. Hofeling said there’s currently no indication this would happen but the company 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.

To paraphrase, they will find a way to keep the lifeline that is Alaska’s maritime cargo shipping in operation.

According to the POA website, goods shipped through POA service over 85 percent of Alaskans, and around 74 percent of the waterborne freight entering Southcentral Alaska comes through POA.

Channel 2's Daniel Kirby and Kristen Durand contributed to this report.
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