More than 80 per cent of cargo backlog at Changi Airport cleared

To spread the cargo load, alternative sites to park, check and break down cargo were created within the airfreight terminals. PHOTO: SATS

SINGAPORE - More than 80 per cent of the backlog of cargo stuck at Changi Airport due to a confluence of factors has been cleared as at Sunday (Feb 6).

The remainder of the backlog is on track to be cleared by Tuesday, said Mr Bob Chi, Sats chief operating officer for gateway services, in an update late on Sunday.

Delays in processing by Sats, Changi Airport's chief ground handler for airfreight, were caused by a surge in cargo shipments pre-Chinese New Year and a shortage of manpower due to Covid-19 infections among airport staff.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Chi said Sats had redeployed more than 40 staff from other areas of operations to ease the backlog.

"We have been recalling about 10 to 12 staff daily on their rest days to support import operations," he said.

To spread the cargo load, alternative sites to park, check and break down cargo were also created within the airfreight terminals, Mr Chi added.

The Straits Times reported on Saturday that a severe backlog in the processing of cargo at the airport terminals in the past two weeks had led to delays in the delivery of imported goods such as electronics and books to merchants.

Shipments that normally took hours to process at the terminals were taking days instead, said freight forwarders.

Ships waiting for urgent parts brought in by airfreight were also marooned at Singapore's ports, while others have stayed behind schedule to receive their shipments, they said.

Some freight forwarders said the delays were costing their clients money and affecting contracts, and others expressed concerns about incurring extra charges for their ships overstaying at ports.

In response, Sats said yesterday that it is in contact with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and vessels affected can appeal to have their charges waived.

Mr Chi said the build-up of cargo was the result of multiple factors, including a disruption to manpower deployment for cargo import caused by Covid-19 infections among staff.

In a notice dated Jan 31 seen by The Straits Times, Sats told shipping companies and freight forwarders that 26 of its 240 cargo import staff had been affected by quarantine measures, although 25 of those had tested negative and were isolating only as a precaution.

Remote video URL

This was compounded by a surge in imports for the festive season.

"The weekly cargo import volume in the lead-up to the Chinese New Year holiday was about 40 per cent higher than a typical week," Mr Chi said.

Cargo agents were also slower in collecting their cargo from the terminals due to office closures for the Chinese New Year despite Sats processing cargo at the regular run-rate, he added.

"However, cargo import is the only operation affected by the delay while all other ground handling operations including passenger services and aircraft handling are operating normally," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.