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Young Brothers suspends some cargo shipments to Maui

Company short staffed after Kahului port workers contract COVID-19

Young Brothers containers are shown stacked in Kahului Harbor in January 2020. The company said it will temporary suspend some cargo shipments from Honolulu to Kahului after eight of the roughly 33 workers at the Kahului port contracted COVID-19. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Young Brothers is temporarily suspending some of its cargo shipments from Honolulu to Kahului — including dry and refrigerated goods, cars and livestock — after a COVID-19 outbreak left the company short staffed, the company and the county said Friday.

Young Brothers, a crucial supplier of goods between islands, said there would be no delays for scheduled sailings to and from Maui next week. However, the company is temporarily reducing cargo acceptance and delivery through next week “due to a COVID-related labor shortage.”

Of the roughly 33 Young Brothers employees at the Port of Kahului as of Friday, eight have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the company.

“We know the people of Hawaii count on Young Brothers to deliver the critical supplies they need, and that’s why we are continuing to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of our team members who make this possible,” Megan Rycraft, Young Brothers’ director of health, safety, quality and environment, said in a statement to The Maui News on Friday.

Currently, operations are limited to only transporting straight-load containers, the 20- or 40-foot dry or refrigerated containers that highly skilled machine operators load directly onto the barge using a forklift, the company said.

The Young Brothers tug Kapena Bob Purdy and barge Maka‘ala are tied up alongside Kahului Harbor’s Pier Two in July 2020. The company said a “COVID-related labor shortage” will force it to temporarily suspend acceptance of some cargo to Kahului but that it planned to fully restore services by next week. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Cargo that Young Brothers is currently not accepting from Honolulu to Kahului includes all dry palletized and mixed cargo, refrigerated palletized and loose cargo, automobiles, roll-on roll-off cargo, livestock and hazardous materials services.

Starting next week, Young Brothers will slowly phase in these other types of cargo for shipment.

By next Thursday, the company plans to fully restore all cargo acceptance and delivery services from Honolulu to Kahului.

During a county news conference on Friday, Mayor Michael Victorino urged residents not to “run off to Costco or to Walmart or to Walgreens or to CVS Longs and start stacking up with toilet tissue and hand towels and other things.”

“Do not rush out and go buy any water and all that. It’s not necessary. This is not a shortage in any way,” Victorino said. “But just to make sure that people understand, there may be some small disruption in shipments, especially the small shipping.”

The mayor added that he met with Young Brothers President Jay Ana on Friday, and that the company said it would “try their best to not interrupt in any way the daily or the normal shipping to Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the entire state.”

“What is in the cards, so that people understand — and this is just temporary until possibly the 16th or 17th of January — is the small container or the small bulk shipping of those, what you call palletized shipping,” Victorino said. “They’re going to see if freight forwarders can help the consumer or the shippers from Maui, or the producers from Maui, whether it’s floral, food or anything of that nature. That will be some of the areas that they will be recommending changes. … But that will cost a little more, and we also have air shipping, if necessary.”

Young Brothers said it continues to monitor staffing levels closely and update customers through email notices.

About 90 percent of staff are vaccinated, and the company recently hired The Queen’s Health Systems to oversee its contact tracing program and consult on enhanced safety and mitigation measures.

“Young Brothers is implementing a suite of enhanced safety measures at ports across the state that we developed with local public health experts,” Rycraft said.

According to the company, enhanced safety measures include:

• 10-day isolation following a positive test.

• Five-day isolation following exposure and a negative PCR test result before returning to work.

• Free at-home PCR tests for any affected ports.

• Deployment of face shields and high-quality KN95 or N95 masks for all team members.

• Additional precautions for essential tug crew members.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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