Typhoon pauses air, ocean freight in Hong Kong, South China

A severe typhoon is headed for the South China region, forcing airlines and ports to take precautions and adjust schedules.

A plane comes in for a landing in Hong Kong with ocean view beyond runway.

Strong winds and heavy rain from a typhoon barreling through the South China Sea is expected to disrupt air and ocean shipments, as well as local freight delivery, during the next 24 to 48 hours.

The Hong Kong Observatory on Wednesday evening issued a Category 8 typhoon warning for Tropical Storm Ma-on, the third highest alert under the city’s weather system.

At 11 p.m. Hong Kong time, the storm system was centered about 131 miles south of Hong Kong, with sustained maximum winds of nearly 70 mph. The storm is forecast to make landfall in western Guangdong province. 

Cathay Pacific said in a bulletin that it has made considerable changes to its flight schedule for Thursday. Many flights are delayed and some canceled. 

“We aim to resume our operating schedule on Thursday evening, however, weather conditions associated with the storm may still require further short-notice changes,” the Hong Kong-based airline said.

Hong Kong International Airport remains operational and most flights remain on schedule at the moment, Seko Logistics said in an advisory to customers. Airlines are not building containers this evening, but there is no large impact currently.

Terminals at the Port of Hong Kong have stopped accepting empty container returns since the afternoon, but service for full containers is still available.

In Shenzhen, the port has suspended entry of full and empty containers with no date issued for when gates will reopen. Seko Logistics said it expects container moves will be delayed two to three days, creating traffic jams at the terminal and container yard through Friday. Some flights at the Shenzhen airport have been delayed or canceled.

The Nansha port in Guangzhou was expected to suspend operations Wednesday night for an undetermined period, according to Seko Logistics. Air freight continues to function normally in Guangzhou and Xiamen.

The storm is hitting in the middle of the peak period for ocean shipping in Asia as companies race to get products to stores in time for the holiday shopping season.

The typhoon could have a much longer ripple effect on Cathay Pacific’s freighter operations. The airline has a tight supply of pilots because of a closed-loop system it is using for flights to China to comply with COVID-19 requirements there. Flight delays could disrupt the rotation of pilots in-and-out of quarantine and create a shortage of pilots, as happened in July when two typhoons swept through the region. 

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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