Stores seek ways to get around dockers' strike
Retailers prepare for containers to be sent to other ports, flown or driven in, amid delivery delays due to dockers' walkout
Amy Nip and Toh Han Shih
Shops selling food are looking for alternative sources of supply and delivery options as a strike by dockers enters its second week.
The work ban by staff at the Kwai Tsing container terminals has already caused delays in overseas food delivery.
"I've already asked [our] shipping company to sail to another container port in Hong Kong," said Coils Lam Wai-chun, the owner of snack chain 759 Store.
The chain, which imports up to 40 containers of supplies a week, saw a delay in the delivery of 18 containers this week.
In the containers were Japanese snacks, which account for half of its sales.
"The stock of Japanese snacks will last another three weeks … If I cannot get fresh supplies within two weeks, it will be a real problem," Lam said.
Staff members dealing with containers were told to take days off for the time being, he said.
If all the containers arrived in one go after the strike ended, he would need more manpower to handle the influx, he explained.
Over at Kai Bo Food Supermarket in Kwai Chung, several of its daily delivery of 10 containers was affected by the strike, general manager Daniel Fung said.
"Among them was frozen meat from North and South America, such as chicken from Brazil," he said, adding that the supermarket's stock could last for about a month.
Sha Tin department store Yata's managing director Daniel Chong Wai-chung said that while the store did not have a problem with supplies at the moment, fresh produce could run out soon as it had only a week's stock secured.
He said Yata would tap into alternative supply sources if there is a product shortage.
"We can eat more food from the mainland. And apart from shipping, food can also be imported by air or by land," he said.
Even so, Chong would like the dispute between the dockers and their employers to be resolved as soon as possible.
"There is inflation. [The employers] can consider raising the workers' salaries a bit," he said.
Lam shared his view. "They [port operators] can raise our charges in the future. This would be better than letting the strike drag on and putting our supply chain at risk," he said.
Shippers' Council chairman Willy Lin Sun-mo also cited worries about the city's food supply. "If the strike goes on, a lot of baby milk powder from Australia and New Zealand will suffer," he said.
The council has advised shippers to consider unloading their cargo in Shenzhen instead if the strike persisted.
There would be extra costs if cargo was diverted from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, and then re-routed to Hong Kong, said Sunny Ho Lap-kee, the council's executive director.
Moving one container by truck from Shenzhen to Hong Kong would cost HK$2,000, plus the hassle of clearing the Shenzhen customs, while transporting it by barge would cost HK$300, he explained.
"If this [strike] situation carries on, the shipping companies will not tolerate a long delay," warned Anthony Wong Foo-wah, former Logistics Association president.
"They may reschedule to other ports like Singapore or Shenzhen. And once they reschedule, they may not come back to Hong Kong again."