Industry’s Pause Raises Supply Chain Concerns
Seaport damage ...
The tsunami caused extensive damage to seaports along the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. And while only one — Sendai-Shiogama — ranks among the country’s largest ports, all play a role in receiving goods from abroad and serving as feeders to the nation’s major seaports farther south.
“The situation is quite bad” for the northeastern ports, said Yoshiaki Higuchi, director of planning for the Japan Port and Harbor Association, “but at the moment we aren’t even certain about the extent of the damage.”
A reporter who visited two other small port towns, Minamisanriku and Ofunato, found that the docks and port facilities were almost completely destroyed. In Ofunato, many of the materials that had been stacked on the docks, like lumber, were carried by the waves into the town, where they crashed into homes and added to the destruction, residents said.
Sendai-Shiogama has particular importance for some companies, including the electronics makers Sony, Canon and Pioneer and the brewer Kirin. It ranks about 13th among Japanese ports in container shipments, Mr. Higuchi said. Together, the 10 most affected ports make up about 10 percent of Japan’s container trade, he said.
Mr. Higuchi said it would probably be six months to a year before the Sendai port was again functioning fully, because a gantry crane that handles containers had fallen and the sea wall appeared to have been damaged.
Mario Moreno, an economist who analyzes seaborne trade data for Piers Global Intelligence Solutions, said it was too early to tell how the crisis in Japan would effect trade with the United States long term. Short term, however, “trade is going to weaken in the months ahead,” he said.
Air freight companies, too, have experienced disruptions because of damage to airports in the northeast and the cascading effect on traffic to and from other airports farther south. The American giant FedEx, for example, shut service to much of eastern Japan, including Tokyo, after the quake.
FedEx said Tuesday that it hoped soon to resume its pickup and delivery in eastern Japan, excluding Fukushima, Miyagi and parts of Ibaraki prefectures, but it warned that delays could continue.
Various companies trying to ship their products into Japan are also facing problems.
All last weekend, Brian Terasawa, the regional director of Asia-Pacific operations for Commodity Forwarders, a freight-forwarding company based in Los Angeles that specializes in perishable products, and his colleagues worked on the telephone with air carriers to get their customers’ shipments through to Japan.
Air transport has resumed, but only at a fraction of the normal pace. Before, his company was shipping 80 tons a day to Japan, including radicchio, Mexican asparagus, tomatoes and chilled or frozen pork. On Wednesday, only about 10 to 20 tons went through.
The problem, Mr. Terasawa said, is the embargo airlines are putting on goods flown to Japan, particularly Narita International Airport near Tokyo. Mainly, only mail and relief supplies are making it through, with a little room left over.
“Domestically, they don’t have food and vegetables in Japan — they don’t have enough and they are afraid about keeping the shelves stocked,” he said.
“We’ve been trying to explain to the airlines that the perishables that we are trying to send through them are relief items. But that’s not clicking with them.”
—Reporting was contributed by Ken Belson in Tokyo, Martin Fackler in Ofunato, Japan, Liz Alderman in Paris, Mark Getzfred in New York, Nick Bunkley in Detroit, and Miguel Helft and Verne G. Kopytoff in San Francisco.