“We’ve been fortunate to have very few staff directly affected by the virus, but the economics have been very challenging,” says Conor Mowlds, Chief Commercial Officer of Port of Cork. This is most obvious in cruise due to the industry’s total shutdown until at least August. However, other areas such as the car trade, passenger ferries, and liquid cargo are also suffering and we’re expecting a major year-on-year decline in those sectors too.
As Ireland’s second-largest port, handling approximately 25% of its Lo-Lo trade, we all had to put in extra hours to ensure that freight operations continued to run smoothly, and vital supplies were able to rapidly reach their destinations. Our logistics capabilities have been thoroughly stress-tested by COVID-19, but our team has proved up to the challenge and the experience has brought us closer together as a team.
After four months, how would you rate the Port of Cork’s performance so far?
Very early on we decided to implement our preparedness plan. We didn’t have a crystal ball, but it was clear to us that the potential risks far outweighed the benefits of delaying its implementation. Making that decision enabled us to trigger proactive execution of all necessary measures to ensure operational continuity. For example, additional sanitisation measures were immediately put in place to ensure that all vessels berthing in Cork have a clean bill of health. This has meant that we’ve been able to continue loading and discharging with only very minimal operational disruption.
Although COVID-19 has created a short-term disruption, we’ve continued to plan for the future. In the last month, we’ve secured two new services from Port of Cork. A new RoRo freight service to the port of Zeebrugge, and a weekly direct service to the USA. This puts Irish exporters within 550 km of 60% of the EU’s purchasing power and gives Ireland its first direct container service to the USA in decades.
How is the Port of Cork preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19?
As the global economy emerges from lockdown, we’re cautiously confident that we’ve weathered the worst of the pandemic for now. However, we’re very aware of our responsibilities and are implementing our learnings from the last four months to ensure we’re as resilient as possible for any reemergence.
To ensure the robustness of Ireland’s supply chains, the delivery of Cork Container Terminal (CCT) will be critical. When it’s fully operational in 2021, it will add 360m of quay space and two ship-to-shore cranes, which will allow multiple vessels up to post-panamax to be serviced simultaneously.
Additionally, we’re sadly all too aware of the UK’s impending departure from the European Union and its potential to overlap with a second wave. We’ve been planning for Brexit since 2016 and have taken precautions to ensure that there will be minimal disruption for logistics operations. This has included hiring and training extra staff and will double the size of our customs building in Ringaskiddy.