Coronavirus: Goods flowing through Portsmouth International Port but director predicts it will be 3-6 months before it takes passengers

GOODS are flooding into Britain through Portsmouth port as it is ‘busier than ever,’ its director has said.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 1:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 4:27 pm

But Mike Sellers predicted there would be no passenger sailings for as long as six months at Portsmouth International Port.

It comes at a time when the port, owned by Portsmouth City Council, was aiming to boost cruise numbers - and had won the confidence of Saga to name its new liner in Portsmouth in August.

Mr Sellers said: 'I suspect the travel industry will be the last one to start to bounce back as a result of this, so I think the prospect for us, we will be a freight only port for the foreseeable future.

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Port director Mike Sellers at Portsmouth International Port on January 8, 2019. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images

‘I would say three to six months and beyond that, once the confidence is out there, and there is the ability to screen or even vaccines, it might be 12 months before we see passengers increase.'

During the crisis freight has increased - with Mr Sellers saying ‘plenty of food’ is coming through.

Mr Sellers said imports are up by 10 per cent since the Covid-19 crisis started - and supply lines to Europe are open and working well.

He said: 'You see the reports of supermarket shelves being empty and stockpiling but the goods are still coming through.

'Nothing has changed in terms of goods; in fact, we are busier than ever and there is plenty of food coming through for everybody in the supermarkets.'

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He added: 'The message we are trying to get out because of this panic-buying is that there is no restriction on the movement of potential goods, which includes fresh produce for the supermarkets.'

Mr Sellers said the port would normally see two million ferry passengers travelling through each year, but this had completely stopped after the final repatriation sailings last week and he predicted there would be no passenger sailings for up to six months.

However, he said its main operator, Brittany Ferries, is still operating daily freight-only sailings to Caen, St Malo and Santander, with a new service to Cherbourg running to meet demand for imports.

Mr Sellers added: 'There are restrictions around passengers and movement of people but certainly not the movement of trade of goods, and Portsmouth is very much about fresh produce, NHS supplies, lifeline goods to the Channel Islands.

'Brittany Ferries are one of the freight carriers that are essential for medical supplies to the NHS, what is referred to as category one freight, and they carry a lot of fresh produce from places like Spain and things like cauliflowers and cabbages from the Brittany region. All that is continuing.'

He said imports are not only coming from Europe but around the world, including from banana suppliers, with Portsmouth receiving 50 per cent of the country's bananas.

Mr Sellers said the port is operating at 90 per cent staffing levels and that, when Covid-19 screening becomes available to key workers outside the NHS, this will help reduce the number of 14-day absences among his staff.

He also said the port is struggling to find sufficient supplies of cleaning products, face masks for the port's pilots, and other PPE, and had appealed to the local resilience forum for assistance in sourcing them.

Mr Sellers said Portsmouth is crucial for the Channel Islands, providing 95 per cent of their imports, and if the port was to close, the supermarket shelves there would be empty within 48 hours.

'It is essential that ports do remain open. There is this emergency Bill so, if there aren't enough Border Force staff, the Government could close ports, they would look at non-essential ports - it would be highly unlikely that Portsmouth would close.'