Port authority keeps goods moving during COVID-19 crisis

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Windsor Star/Dave Battagello




Shipping season on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway opened on April 1, so the Windsor Port Authority issued a message Wednesday that it remains fully open for business and fulfilling its vital role during ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“Despite the closure of many businesses in the community, the port is going full tilt,” said Steve Salmons, CEO for the Windsor Port Authority. “We recognize the port is an essential part of rail, shipping and trucking sectors that is keeping our economy afloat with access to goods and products throughout this crisis.

“There is a general sentiment that everyone is home and not working, but that’s far from the truth for the Port of Windsor.”

He listed Windsor Salt, ADM Agri-Industries and area aggregate companies as all operating at close to full capacity despite the pandemic and each heavily using local shipping ports since the season opened a few weeks ago.

Salmons said roughly 846 full-time workers are employed at Windsor’s 14 port terminals. Aside from a handful of administrative positions, most workers have remained on the job daily despite the crisis and business shutdowns.

“These people are working every day to help ensure products we need are getting to where they need to be,” he said.

Fortunately, for the stevedores, heavy equipment operators and truck drivers involved in transporting goods off and on ships at local ports, physical distancing for the most part can be accomplished due to the nature of their port jobs which under normal circumstances remains spread out at each terminal.

There initially were fears that crews arriving from international destinations — primarily Europe — entering the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes threatened to bring COVID-19 with them.

But Salmons indicated high pressure on each ship’s employees and self-policing within the industry itself has emerged since the shipping industry can not afford an outbreak.

Workers after boarding at an original port are essentially being self-quarantined among themselves for weeks at a time on each ship with constant checks to quickly remove or isolate any worker should symptoms emerge.

“The (international) ships have to report (to Canadian authorities) before being allowed to enter Canadian waters that all crew members are healthy,” he said.

“Owners are also desperately afraid of crew getting COVID from our communities. So, a lot of precautions are being taken because any outbreak would be devastating to a company.”

Canadian shipping companies travelling from port to port within our borders also have similar concerns because there is a constant shortage of workers on freighters even during normal economic times, Salmons said.

“These companies have business and economic consequences, so everyone is doing their best right now to keep staff healthy,” he said.