In Magazine Article, News

By Todd Karpovich

March/April cover

Read this article in the digital edition of our March/April 2020 issue.

The Port of Baltimore is successfully navigating through the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) is also playing a critical role in protecting the safety of the public and in moving cargo so shelves can be restocked and supplies can be delivered to citizens.

“Even before Maryland received its first positive COVID-19 case, MDOT MPA was working diligently on reviewing and updating our continuity-of-operations plan, as well as looking at our current personal supplies to include personal protective equipment to ensure that our daily activities could continue during this unprecedented time,” said Andrea Williams, MDOT MPA’s Manager of Safety and Risk Management.

“Communication is key, and I cannot emphasize that enough. We have been communicating our recommendations and preparations through employee emails, as well as e-broadcasts. In addition, we have been hosting weekly teleconferences with our tenants to share lessons learned and our preparation plans among one another,” said Williams. “It does take a village to keep things running smoothly.”

Ports America Chesapeake (PAC) operates Seagirt Marine Terminal under a 50-year public-private partnership agreement signed in 2010 with MDOT MPA. Seagirt has played a key role in helping provide goods to areas in need.

“Food, goods, medical supplies and medicine are continuing to come through Seagirt Marine Terminal each day, keeping distribution-center inventories strong,” company officials said on social media.

PAC has adjusted Seagirt’s hours because of lower international container volumes. Baltimore’s five other public marine terminals — Dundalk, Fairfield, Masonville, North Locust Point and South Locust Point — have continued to operate throughout the crisis on their regular schedules. These terminals carry farm and construction equipment, cars/light trucks, paper products and breakbulk cargo, such as transit vehicles and yachts.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen is also keeping the supply chain moving. The firm is consistently adapting to ensure that it can quickly adjust service and costs as the supply chain and market impacts become clearer. In addition, Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s ports and terminals have strict access and health controls in place and are all in operation. The firm applauds the perseverance of its staff.

“Risk mapping and scenario planning are a natural part of our precautionary approach, and we will continue to be in close dialogue with customers and business partners,” officials at Wallenius Wilhelmsen said. “We will be as proactive and transparent as possible in communicating any impacts to operations.”

Some of the Port’s key clients are also doing their part to provide reinforcements to the public and to keep the waterways safe.

Officials with McCormick & Company said the top priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of the company’s employees in this “unprecedented time of crisis.” McCormick has instituted work-from-home schedules for employees who are able to do so.

To ensure the safety of employees who continue to work onsite, McCormick has implemented travel restrictions, visitor protocols and social distancing practices within its facilities. The company has also announced plans to support employees who are physically working in locations critical to keeping operations running globally, including increased hourly wages, extended paid leave to care for family members, and salary maintenance if operations are suspended.

McCormick has also remained committed to maintaining critical food supply across all its markets and supporting communities worldwide.

“Our focus is maintaining the continuity of our business and keeping our brands and our customers’ brands in supply. McCormick facilities remain open in areas where many other businesses are closing. We’re taking steps to safely operate our business and supply our customers,” said Meghan A. Winston, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications. “We continue to source over 14,000 raw materials from over 80 countries and the Port of Baltimore remains critical to receiving the much-needed ingredients that are processed here locally in our Spice Mill and manufacturing location in Hunt Valley.”

Pompeian’s facilities in both Baltimore and California remain open and its team members are working to meet the supply needs of retail customers. This essential activity extends to the firm’s Baltimore supply chain, which is also running efficiently and productively. 

“The Port of Baltimore has been essential to our operations and success for over 100 years and we’ve always been grateful for its strength and efficiency,” said Mouna Aissaoui, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Pompeian Inc. “While the COVID-19 situation has brought new challenges and conversations to the forefront, our internal team and strategic partners are meeting each challenge with solutions and learnings. With that said, our supply of oils coming through the Baltimore harbor remains plentiful and we are grateful to all our staff, suppliers and partners who are ensuring the safe transport and bottling of our oils.

“As the leader in the industry and a leading employer in Baltimore, we are first and foremost ensuring the safety of our employees, partners and suppliers while also prioritizing that our supplies of oils and vinegars are plentiful in store and online.”

Some of the steps Pompeian is taking include:

  • Monitoring the mandates of local, national and international health organizations on a regular basis, ensuring that employees are guided by the latest in health standards and Pompeian’s products and production processes are being held to the highest and safest protocols. The company is also following all government-mandated employee policies, ensuring employees have access and understanding of every update.
  • Requiring that all non-essential Pompeian team members work from home while protecting the essential personnel on production lines with heightened social distancing, which includes additional break-room areas throughout the company’s facility, limiting the number of people to five during breaks. Additionally, to avoid any unnecessary risk and to better protect the safety of all essential employees, Pompeian is adjusting the timing of shifts so that there is a one-hour gap between the two main shifts, allowing for increased social distancing. 
  • Modifying existing attendance policies and adding a daily stipend for on-site essential employees to protect the financial stability of essential workers in particular.
  • Working closely with staffing agencies to ensure temporary employees who are joining Pompeian’s teams are also protected, including benefits like daily stipends and paid leave. 
  • Providing meals from local restaurants for all essential employees working in Pompeian’s facilities over the weekend, while helping with meals in the larger Maryland community through donations to the Maryland Food Bank.

Another Port customer, Ace Logistics, has a simple, three-phase approach toward COVID-19:

  1. Use common sense; this means following the directives of health officials.
  2. We will continue to service our customers until the authorities tell us that we can’t continue.
  3. We will continue to service our customers as long as our personnel remain safe and healthy, which reverts to No.1.

To streamline its processes and protect its staff, Ace Logistics has also made several operational adjustments, including locking all doors; admitting only those with appointments; equipping all of the buildings and personnel with personal safety and cleaning gear; doubling the frequency of cleaning and deep cleaning by the facilities team; and finally, constructing physical barriers limiting driver access to, and interaction with, docks and staff.

“Ace Logistics services a variety of product categories, including food, ingredients and essential supplies,” said Alec Hajimihalis, who owns and operates Ace Logistics with his brother, Gus Hajimihalis. “We are adjusting our operating hours weekly to accommodate the inbound and outbound volume spikes. We are committed to providing a high level of customer service to the community through these trying times. As the cliché goes … we’re all in this together.”

Baltimore-based John S. Connor Inc. has implemented a work-from-home mandate for non-essential employees. The firm has also provided personal protection equipment to agency and warehouse staff.

“We are open for business and doing our best to support the supply chains of our customers,” said President Lee Connor. “Our major issue is reduced capacity for air cargo since so many passenger flights are cancelled.

“Sea freight is much better, but still contending with blank sailings. Blank sailings from China a month ago were caused by Chinese factory shutdowns and U.S. importers were searching for someone to fill orders/take bookings. Now blank sailings are caused by U.S. importers responding to the downturn in the U.S. economy. China has resumed production, but we are not able to take prior volumes of cargo.

“I believe the next couple of months will be difficult,” Connor added, “as the virus spreads and further business retractions take place because of U.S. consumers being locked down and a lack of consumer confidence. They could shop online, but retirement plans are dwindling.”

MTC, one of the oldest and largest temperature-controlled logistics companies on the East Coast, has 130 employees and is still hiring amid the pandemic. The company is also providing travel letters for workers, said Andrew B. Janson, President of MTC Logistics.

“The food supply chain is very fragile and dynamic,” Janson said. “There is no shortage of food. We have facilities full of [frozen] food.”

Janson said the export market is strong, with high demand. But with containers out of alignment, it is sometimes difficult to get the food out.

He said inventory is backing up in many facilities. Also, the emphasis is shifting from fresh to frozen food. At first, U.S. consumers wanted fresh protein products, especially chicken, then they stocked up and now the demand for fresh chicken is down. He said MTC was in many cases flash-freezing chicken for export.

Some food imports may be running low, he said, but “we know there is food on the water.” The challenge will be aligning the ships and containers to get the product to markets.

“MDOT MPA, PAC and drayage service have all been extremely responsive,” he said. He did add that occasional closings at the PAC container terminal “create challenges.”

“At MTC, it goes without saying that the health and safety of our team members, and of our customers’ products, are primary. That’s our focus all day long, seven days a week. We have a robust preparedness plan that is ever-evolving,” Janson added.

He also said he is working with trade associations, such as the Global Cold Chain Alliance, that represent the needs of food and beverage purveyors. Janson is head of the Board of Directors for this alliance.

MTC is also taking extra steps to help employees through this challenging time.

“We have implemented $2 an hour wage increases for all of our hourly workers,” Janson said.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, MTC brings in lunch for onsite workers, trying to support local restaurants with this business.

“We are just working with our employees on flexible schedules. Those who can work remotely are doing so,” Janson said. “The workload is changing; we’re being flexible as much as we can.” The firm is offering extra shifts to those who want them and moving people from day shifts to night to accommodate personal schedules.

Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) had pre-existing, audited business-continuity and disaster-recovery plans across its businesses, including the deployment of remote workers and shared service centers. The company has also done its part to ensure the delivery of food, medicines and other essential items.

“Our response to COVID-19 has benefited from a combination of these pre-existing plans and our reactivity to this unexpected pandemic,” company officials said. “We are maintaining our strong customer focus everywhere and we continue to ensure that across all markets we can offer a range of services and continuously engage with our customers to minimize the disruptions to their businesses.”

Belts Logistics Services has been able to maintain its capacity and capabilities in the midst of the COVID-19 threat.

“We are proud to be a vital component in America’s response to this novel virus and an ongoing partner with the Port of Baltimore,” said Larry Smith, Vice President of Business Development. “At Belts Logistics Services, we knew we would be an essential part of the supply chain during the COVID-19 crisis, so we were proactive in planning for, and responding to, the challenges this pandemic presents.

“We immediately set up home workplaces for our employees who could work from home, and implemented heightened safety measures for the essential employees who needed to be in our warehouse to move our customers’ freight. We also transitioned to paperless processes wherever possible.”

ACL, a subsidiary of the Grimaldi Group, is operating on its normal weekly roll-on/roll-off and container service to and from the Port of Baltimore and all destinations in Europe and North America. Empty equipment is available at all of ACL’s terminal and inland depots and there are no port shutdowns currently.

As an organization with links between North America, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and West Africa, “the Grimaldi Group and its companies place top priority on the safety and health of our employees, customers and suppliers,” ACL officials said. “We always identify and monitor any circumstances that may affect the health and safety of our employees, customers and suppliers.”

Evergreen Line is complying with various national, state and local guidelines and mandates. The firm has reconfigured its staffing and workplace arrangement, taking required steps such as “work from home and work in alternative locations,” emphasizing tele-communicating and online-processing where possible.

“Our primary aim is to continue performing our core functions in an efficient, responsive and effective manner,” the company said. “Under these circumstances, although it will not be business as usual, we will be able to keep our services and operations running despite existing crises, while protecting the safety of our staff and thereby the interests of yours also.”

Some of the original equipment manufacturers at the Port are also working through the challenges of COVID-19.

John Deere has continued operations because its business has been deemed essential to ensuring community and national resilience and well-being, under guidance by President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Keeping farmers and those involved in infrastructure and energy production up and running is essential to food production and our ability to support critical infrastructure needs,” Deere officials said. “Our employees were identified by the Department of Homeland Security as essential critical infrastructure workers, defined as the essential workers needed to maintain the services and functions Americans depend on daily and need to be able to operate resiliently during the COVID-19 pandemic response.”

CNH Industrial, which has enjoyed a long-term relationship with the Port, extended its working-from-home program, in addition to establishing spacing measures and providing protective face masks where appropriate. Those measures were in conjunction with intensive sanitization and deep cleaning of all work and rest areas, changing rooms and related facilities in all its locations.

Other firms around the Port are finding ways to help.

Preston, Md.-based Choptank Transport, along with four other local businesses, donated funds to the Mid-Shore Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

The fund was established by the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, a nonprofit that serves Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Its purpose is to expedite relief efforts for community-based organizations and nonprofits that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Emergency declarations and stay-at-home mandates are preventing many of the area’s much-needed resources from operating and being able to help those most in need.

The Mid-Shore leadership team provided a $100,000 initial endowment to seed the fund, with additional donations from large businesses, such as Choptank Transport, Avon-Dixon Insurance Agency, Preston Automotive Group and Shore Bancshares, providing a further boost.

“All our communities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland are feeling the effects of recent events,” says Choptank Transport’s President and CEO, Geoff Turner. “Business owners and individuals who were struggling before the COVID-19 crisis are finding themselves in even tougher situations now. Anything we can do to help is the right thing to do, and I implore others who have the means to follow suit. As we hear so often, we are all in this together.”

The MDOT MPA continues to position itself for future success. Work is underway on a second 50-foot-deep berth, and four additional supersized cranes are expected to be in place and operational in 2021. These additions will allow the Port to handle some of the world’s most massive ships simultaneously, greatly enhancing its cargo capabilities.

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Q&A: ‘I Am Very Proud of Our Response’

David Thomas, Acting Executive Director of MDOT MPA, shares what steps the Port has taken to meet and weather the unprecedented pandemic.

What has made COVID-19 especially unique at the Port?

This continues to be an unprecedented challenge. It’s not a major snowstorm or a hurricane that you plan for and recover from in a matter of days or a week. This has completely changed many of the ways we do business. I am very proud of our response as a port administration and equally impressed with the collaborations of the greater Port of Baltimore to slow the spread of the virus. Following CDC guidelines by enforcing teleworking, adhering to social distancing guidelines,
and working in concert with our tenants to protect our Port workers have all been top priorities.

What are some of the key steps the Port of Baltimore has undertaken to ensure the safety of the maritime community and state as a whole?

Since the onset of this pandemic in early March, MDOT MPA has stayed in frequent contact with our customers, the ILA, the truckers and our Port tenants. Our goal has been to communicate information clearly and to let them know that we are all in this challenge together. We are prepared to assist in any way possible to ease the operational impacts to our customers. Following Gov. Hogan’s lead, we have recommended social distancing measures to our employees and tenants. Specific to security measures, we have eliminated the requirement for our terminal security guards to physically touch credentials at our checkpoints. We have also worked closely with the Steamship Trade Association and Ports America Chesapeake to implement temperature screening at the Seagirt Marine Terminal.

How much has COVID-19 affected daily business operations at the Port of Baltimore?

This has been much different than anything we’ve ever experienced. Gov. Hogan’s leadership has been incredible from the very beginning. There is nothing more important than the health of our workforce. The Port of Baltimore provides essential services. We have emphasized social distancing measures, teleworking, hand washing and other CDC guidelines that many of our Port companies have followed. I think we have done a tremendous job overall as a Port.

We are now beginning to see the potential impacts in terms of lower cargo volumes, but we feel strongly that volumes will stabilize and eventually recover. The advantages that the Port of Baltimore has won’t change. We are still the closest East Coast port to the Midwest; we have a 50-foot-deep channel and Neo-Panamax cranes; we are the number-one auto and ro/ro port in the nation; and we are one of the top U.S. ports for forest products. Those things don’t change.

How important is the maritime industry at this time?

The transportation sector is an essential industry. The supply chain is magnified during critical times like these. Our supply chain is responsible for and plays a large role in restocking shelves at retailers and bringing medicines and medical supplies to the health care network. Our truckers, terminal operators, tug companies, pilots, freight forwarders, and of course our longshoremen and women are needed now more than ever. As Gov. Hogan has repeatedly said, we will pull through this, but it’s going to take all of us doing our parts.

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Port of Baltimore Resources for Guidance with the Coronavirus

Please check MDOT MPA’s website for further information and updates: mpa.maryland.gov

For updates on the state’s response to the coronavirus, visit: coronavirus.maryland.gov

Ports America Chesapeake (PAC) operates Seagirt Marine Terminal under a 50-year public-private partnership agreement signed in 2010 with MDOT MPA. Please visit PAC’s website for updates, turn times and schedules: www.pachesapeake.com

Cruise Maryland has discontinued service until further notice under Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s guidance. Please check their website for an updated schedule: cruise.maryland.gov

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protect America from public health threats, both foreign and domestic. Highly skilled CDC staff work 24/7 to detect, respond to and prevent the spread of contagious diseases. For more information or stories, please visit: www.cdc.gov

Quarantine Stations:
www.cdc.gov/quarantine/quarantinestationcontactlistfull.html

Contact Investigations:
www.cdc.gov/quarantine/contact-investigation.html

Animal Importations:
www.cdc.gov/importation/bringing-an-animal-into-the-united-states/index.html

Traveling with Pets:
www.cdc.gov/importation/traveling-with-pets.html