The world’s biggest oil-tanker firms, dry bulk carriers and container lines are servicing Japanese ports, judging there to be no threat to vessels or crew from radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear plant.
Hapag-Lloyd AG, the world’s fourth-largest container shipping line, said today it would start calling again at the Ports of Tokyo and Yokohama, meaning that none of the world’s 16 biggest cargo-box carriers are routinely shunning the area. All vessels are avoiding a 30-kilometer (19 mile) exclusion zone imposed around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, about 220 kilometers to the north of Tokyo.
Record-high readings of contaminated sea water were found March 29 near the plant, which was damaged by a magnitude-9 earthquake and 23-foot tsunami on March 11, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said. The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, said March 21 there was no medical basis for restricting shipping and the U.S. Navy said March 28 any radiation on vessels can be scrubbed off with soap and water and isn’t harmful to people’s health.
“The bottom line is that people haven’t been avoiding Tokyo, they’re just being more careful about how they approach it,” Christian Wetherbee, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets Inc. in New York, said by phone yesterday.
China Cosco (Holdings) Co., Nippon Yusen KK (9101), Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. (9107) and China Shipping (Group) Co., the five largest dry bulk shipping companies, said there are no changes to their usual services. Their fleets can carry about 85 million metric tons of cargo including coal, iron ore and grains, according to data from Clarkson Research Services Ltd., a unit of the world’s largest shipbroker.
Japan is the world’s largest importer of coal and Asia’s second-largest buyer of iron ore and crude oil after China.
Hamburg Sued, the shipping line owned by Germany’s Oetker family, said yesterday it was canceling a port call to Tokyo because weather conditions in the area are forecast to change. The company had sent a ship to Tokyo and Yokohama last week.
“The area seems to be working fine, we are not picking up any reports of substantial delays because of radiation leaks further north,” said Guy Campbell, head of dry bulk shipping at Clarkson in London.
Mitsui, Frontline Ltd., Teekay Corp. (TK), Nippon Yusen and NITC Co., the world’s five largest oil-tanker companies, also said they will still sail to Japan. Their combined fleets can carry enough oil to supply the country for about 100 days.
“It’s not appropriate to stay away” from Japan, said Jack Edlow, president of Washington-based Edlow International Co., a company that ships radioactive materials. The iodine 131 in sea water has a half-life of eight days and will “go away pretty fast,” he said.
The Baltic and International Maritime Council, representing two-thirds of the world’s merchant fleet, said March 28 it had not been informed that any shipping line was avoiding Japan because of the threat of radiation. Japan has more than 200 commercial ports.
“Until now there has been no need to issue an advisory for Tokyo harbor,” Denis Flory, safety director for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in Vienna yesterday. Crews should monitor internal air circulation and change filters after leaving the area, he said.
The Liberian Registry, which represents about 11 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, lifted its recommendation that ships stay 100 nautical miles away from a section of Japan’s east coast. Captains should now follow the guidance of the Japanese government, the registry said in a March 25 notice.
The U.S. Coast Guard advised all ships to stay 50 miles away from the Fukushima plant, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a notice March 18.
Shipping lines sailing into nuclear zones are not insured if their crew or vessels are affected by radiation, according to information on the website of the U.K. P&I Club, which insures a fleet drawn from more than 50 nations.