Kwai Tsing dock workers strike

Shipping changes starting to take bite out of dock strike

Sunkist oranges still in short supply but route diversions closer to HK are starting to bear fruit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 7:34am

Things are looking up for fruit importers, two weeks into a walkout of dock workers that has delayed the clearance of containers at the Kwai Tsing port.

Wholesalers said Sunkist oranges, which are shipped in from the United States, were likely to continue selling at higher prices as produce from North and South America remained hit.

But Sunkist lemons would be replenished from tomorrow. They predicted the supply of Southeast Asian fruits, such as mangoes and durians, would also resume gradually as buyers adjusted shipping routes to avoid strike-hit container terminals.

The city has been putting up with a volatile supply of overseas fruits, for which shipping is a major channel of import, since hundreds of dockers at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals walked off their jobs on March 28.

Wholesale prices of Sunkist oranges had been fluctuating in the past week, shooting up 30 to 40 per cent on some days, said Cheung Chi-cheung, vice-chairman of the Kowloon Fruit and Vegetable Merchants Association. "We need 15 to 20 containers of oranges every day, but the number once dropped to three [during the strike]," he said.

Yesterday, a big Sunkist orange cost HK$5 at the Bowrington Road wet market in Causeway Bay. It was HK$1 more than usual, a fruit seller said. Three Philippine mangoes went for HK$20, up from HK$16.

The situation had improved slightly since the early days of the strike, said wholesalers, whose prices now stand at about a fifth higher than usual.

Merchants had arranged for ships coming from exporters near Hong Kong to dock at Kwai Tsing terminals not owned by port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), or to divert to Shenzhen, Cheung said.

A full recovery is not expected for some time yet, as some ships set to arrive at the strike-hit terminals have departed from the countries of origin, making itinerary adjustments impossible.

"It takes three weeks for goods to arrive from the US, and five weeks from South American countries," Cheung said.

Chilean grapes have been unavailable and there have been no Sunkist lemons for a week. "Some top hotels use only Sunkist lemons," Cheung said. "They smell better than mainland imports, and taste sour but not bitter."

Some shipping lines say a few of their vessels are being stalled at the affected terminals while others are skipping Hong Kong.

Singaporean shipping firm APL said it was working to clear the backlog of vessels waiting to berth. The productivity of its Hong Kong operation was returning to pre-strike levels, it said.

German firm Hapag-Lloyd said it was using mainly Modern Terminals, with a small number of services calling at HIT.