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19 Aug 2020

Port director calls for support to tackle impact of coronavirus

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate operations at Portsmouth International Port.

In the early stages it was an acute response, passenger travel stopped and we focussed all our attention on keeping critical freight moving.

As restrictions eased and travel started to slowly re-emerge, we concentrated efforts on making sure we could look after passengers safely and help get back to some sort of normality.

However, this pandemic is producing chronic, longer term issues and our ferry and cruise customers are bearing the brunt of difficult decisions.

Cruise has ground to a halt, with crew repatriation the priority. We hope cruise travel can return soon, but it is difficult to say with confidence when that’s going be. It’s incredibly hard for the industry at the moment to plan, when the situation is changing reactively.

Our ferry customers are suffering significantly too. Trying to run sailings with reduced capacity, coupled with quarantine restrictions, understandably means having to re evaluate how they operate. If passengers aren’t travelling then the options are limited.

We are calling on the government to introduce fast track testing at ports and airports to avoid the uncertainty in travel conditions. We’re interested in exploring whether fast track testing would be beneficial and also the outcome of antibody testing, both will hopefully help understand who is infectious, which is the main solution to controlling the spread of the virus.

As a local authority port we pride ourselves on contributing significantly to the council’s budget, more than ever essential services for vulnerable groups need financial support. This does weigh heavily on our minds, and motivates us all at the port to do the best we can.

We have invested in the future of Portsmouth port, extending our berth has already seen the largest commercial ship welcomed into the harbour. Inevitably, we have stalled some investments during this time and It’s crucial these projects are given the financial support they need to continue so that they can help kick start the economy.

We will continue to prioritise green initiatives, because while it’s difficult now we need to make sure environmental concerns aren’t overlooked.

At the end of the year we also face the one of the country’s biggest ever changes to the movement of goods, the end of the transition to leave the EU. The port needs to be ready.

We are resilient, we will adapt to a changing situation, but it is tough for our customers and there are people relying on us. As anyone working in the ports industry knows, the tide always turns.

Mike Sellers