A great deal of uncertainty
The ebola virus has developed into an ever more dramatic problem mainly in a number of countries in West Africa. Reports about the impact on containership activities to and from the region vary.
The outbreak of the ebola epidemic continues to dominate the headlines due to its massive effects on some countries in West Africa. It is, however, unclear what the results of the contagion are on containership operations to and from West Africa. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the situation has counted more than 13,700 cases of infection and more than 4,900 deaths (to 27 October 2014). The most seriously affected countries are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal.
SeaIntel, a Danish analyst, has not yet detected «any significant impact» of the disaster so far, and argues that, as before, the more pressing factors influencing freight traffic in the region are inadequate connections from ports to the hinterland, as well as overloaded harbours.
Other industry insiders, however, have reported that cargo volumes handled in commercial activities to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have fallen by up to 40%. This could have very drastic consequences for the economies of these countries.
The reaction of port authorities to vessels which wish to dock after having called at gateways in the affected regions differs. After the Ivory Coast recently banned all ships from ebola-infected regions, the situation has eased somewhat at the time of going to press. The port authority in Abidjan has prescribed that every person on board a unit has to undergo a health check before the boat can be granted permission to enter the harbour.
Hubs in Ghana, Benin, Togo, Angola, Gabon, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal and the Republic of the Congo require the entire crew and any passengers to complete a health questionnaire, to indicate if the journey started in one of the countries affected by the ebola outbreak.
Partial restructuring of services
Some shipping lines have adapted their schedules in response to the situation. CMA CGM, for example, has merged services to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia into a single separate schedule. Maersk Line, too, has split up its West African service and introduced a separate round trip from Tangier to Monrovia (Liberia), Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Conakry (Guinea).
Insiders have reported that ever more situations have arisen in which crew members have refused to travel to the region at all.