Corona diary from Hong Kong: Anglo-Eastern and the city have changed

Anglo-Eastern takes precautions at its headquarters in Hong Kong, drawing upon experiences from the Sars outbreak. In particular, the shipmanagement company is experiencing problems elsewhere in the world, says the CEO. This article is the first in a series in which ShippingWatch meets key people in the world's most important shipping hubs during the corona crisis.

Photo: Anglo-Eastern

Every two hours, the elevator leading up to Anglo-Eastern's headquarters on 248 Queen's Road East in Hong Kong is thoroughly cleaned.

Everyone wears a mask, and people work in the office in shifts. Meetings have been cut to a minimum, and it is not possible for employees to move freely between the eight floors that one of the world's biggest shipmanagement companies spreads across.

And Hong Kong is not even impacted that much by the coronavirus, says CEO Bjørn Højgaard. But perhaps this is largely due to the strict precautions everyone adopted in early February when China sounded the corona alarm.

Because Hong Kong has already been in that situation back in 2003 when Sars broke out, and most people knew exactly what to do.

Sars is deeply embedded in many out here. You don't touch anything. You avoid packed rooms. Major sporting events are canceled. People stay away from the city more. Many more than I've ever experienced go hiking in the mountains over the weekend.

Bjørn Højgaard, CEO, Anglo-Eastern

Through interviews with key people situated in the biggest shipping hubs around the world, ShippingWatch spotlights the coronavirus and its consequences.

Partly, what effects the crisis has on companies' financials and their individual sectors. Partly, how corona has changed everyday life in the office and aboard ships. And finally, how corona has changed life in maritime hubs around the world.

The first installment examines Hong Kong.

Anglo-Eastern and the shipmanagement industry

From his office in Hong Kong, Bjørn Højgaard explains that Anglo-Eastern's biggest challenge right now is to carry out crew changes aboard the nearly 600 vessels the company has under management.

"Or even getting people out to the ships, inspectors to yards to carry out dockings, and getting spare parts and service to the yards when needed. The yards are still running at less than half capacity. We have 25 offices around the world, so the situation is only getting worse as the virus spreads," explains Højgaard.

"We're working with industry professionals to adopt rules so that our people can get where they need to, especially to the ships, where the situation is becoming increasingly untenable with each passing day. Usually, we change 120 crew members every day. We can't do that right now. 10-15 percent of crews are already overdue," he says.

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Flag states have so far given dispensation for crew changes just as classification companies have agreed to postpone planned dockings.

"But authorities need to take it serious because we continue to push it all in front of us and the supply chain is under pressure. We must open up for seafarers within a few weeks," says Højgaard, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Shipowners' Association.

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Headquarters are not the same

Right now, a work day at Anglo-Eastern's headquarters is not the same as it was back in January.

Throughout the day, everyone wears a mask, both while working alone and during meetings. Formal meetings are kept to a minimum, and employees are not allowed to move between the eight floors the headquarters span across.

We're working with industry professionals to adopt rules so that our people can get where they need to, especially to the ships, where the situation is becoming increasingly untenable for each passing day. Usually, we change 120 crew members every day

Bjørn Højgaard, CEO, Anglo-Eastern

"I think it works. It was clear to see that many had experienced Sars, myself included by the way. But most launched initiatives by themselves because they remembered what was done back in 2003 when Sars broke out," explains Højgaard.

"Visitors are examined and have their temperatures checked before they enter, and they are not allowed to have been in one of the critical areas recently. They have to sign a declaration about this in order to enter the building. The elevator is wiped down every two hours, and everyone wears masks. When employees return from yard visits, they are automatically quarantined," he explains.

Right now, 50 people are in quarantine.

Sars made Hong Kong resilient

At the moment, one of the biggest worries is the number of people traveling back to Hong Kong from Europe as a consequence of the European countries shutting down, says the CEO, as some of them will undoubtedly bring corona back with them.

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Other than that, the city, with its 7.5 million residents, appears to have fared relatively well in the six weeks the corona crisis has lasted so far. Schools and universities are shut down, but people are still free to go to bars and restaurants.

But everyone remains cautious. Among other things, you can see locals keeping their balance in the subway without holding on to railings, as this is one way of avoiding the contagion, explains Højgaard.

"Sars is deeply embedded in many out here. You don't touch anything. You avoid packed rooms. Major sporting events are canceled. People stay away from the city more. Many more than I've ever experienced go hiking in the mountains over the weekend."

How are the consequences more generally speaking?

"Everyone will feel it to some extent, depending on which segment you work in. It's worst for cruise liners and those carrying passengers. Then come container liners and subsequently everyone else," states Højgaard.

English Edit: Ida Jacobsen

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