Empty containers seen as weak link in South Korea’s COVID-19 fight

Busan container terminal. Credit: Busan Port Authority

South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) has identified empty containers as the weak link in the country’s fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

The MOF said in a press statement that foreign organisms may be brought into South Korea through empty containers that have been accumulating in the country’s ports due to a slowdown in Chinese port operations caused by COVID-19.

President Moon Jae-in has declared war on COVID-19, after a sudden spike of in-country infections rose to about 5,600 as of 4 March 2020.

Loaded containers are subjected to customs and quarantine procedures, but there are no separate inspection processes for empty containers. The MOF is thus meeting with liner operators and port authorities to collect their feedback.

The plan seeks to prevent the inflow of foreign organisms through empty containers and to alleviate port congestion resulting from the accumulation of such containers.

The MOF will work with regional oceans and fisheries offices, the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency, the Korea Customs Service, and local environment officials to monitor empty containers that are being stored in ports. These government bodies will share information about harmful foreign organisms.

Samples of air will be taken from empty containers that came from affected countries and tested. If foreign organisms are detected, the containers would be cleaned. Samples will be taken from empty containers in Busan, Gwangyang, Incheon, and Ulsan ports.

Container washing facilities may also have to extend their operating hours to clean contaminated containers.

MOF’s planning manager for port logistics, Park Young-ho, said, “We hope to improve the management of empty containers and will work to ensure minimal disruption.”

Caused by a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but has now spread worldwide, with more than 88,000 infections and 3,000 deaths. The number of infections in South Korea is the second highest after China.