The number of cargo vessels cancelling their normal weekly service in Seattle and Tacoma has almost tripled from last year, as the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to control its spread sent Chinese exports plunging by more than 17% in January and February.

Thirty-two cargo vessels have cancelled their sailings in the first three months of this year, compared to just 12 over the same period last year.

That’s caused international imports to Seattle and Tacoma to fall by 15% compared to last year, according to new data from the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA), which manages cargo shipping at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

The full effect of falling Chinese exports, though, might be larger even than those numbers suggest.

For one, local imports from overseas were much lower than usual in February 2019 after retailers stocked up in anticipation of new tariffs.

And the NWSA expects trade to decline even further this month.

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The cancellations — called “blank sailings”— and the accompanying drop in cargo volumes have resulted in temporary operations shutdowns at some terminals.

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The Pacific Northwest’s largest container terminal, Terminal 18 in Seattle, has suspended cargo trucking into and out of the terminal on Fridays. The terminal handles containerized cargo and automobiles. In Tacoma, Pierce County Terminal will do the same Mar. 19.

The closures immediately affect longshore workers and truck drivers. From the start of 2020, longshore workers have worked 17% fewer hours than over the same period last year, according to data from the industry group Pacific Maritime Association.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have access to some benefits to cover the lost hours, but non-members — known as casuals — and truck drivers do not.

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