By Jonathan Saul, Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
LONDON/COPENHAGEN, March 1 (Reuters) – The world’s three largest container companies on Tuesday temporarily suspended cargo shipments to and from Russia in response to Western sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine , in another blow to trade with the country.
Russia’s assault on its neighbor, which Moscow calls a “special operation”, is the largest state-to-state invasion in Europe since World War II.
MSC, headquartered in Switzerland, the world’s largest container shipping line by capacity, said in a notice to customers that effective March 1, it had introduced “a temporary halt to all bookings of freight to/from Russia, covering all access areas, including the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Russian Far East”.
“MSC will continue to accept and monitor bookings for the delivery of essential goods such as food, medical equipment and humanitarian goods,” he said.
Denmark’s Maersk, which is the second-largest carrier after MSC, said separately that it would temporarily halt all container shipments to and from Russia, also adding that the suspension covering all Russian ports would not include foodstuffs, medical and humanitarian supplies.
“As the stability and security of our operations are already directly and indirectly affected by the sanctions, new Maersk ocean and inland bookings to and from Russia will be temporarily suspended,” he said. the company said in a statement.
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France’s CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container company, announced later on Tuesday that it had suspended all bookings to and from Russia until further notice, citing security concerns.
The moves follow similar moves already made by Singapore-headquartered Ocean Network Express and Germany’s Hapag Lloyd – cutting Russia off from the world’s leading container shipping companies, adding to freight challenges ahead.
Over the past year, the world has grappled with supply chain bottlenecks caused by growing demand for retail products transported on container ships and lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. .
MSC said it would contact customers directly for any Russia-related cargo that was already in transit.
“MSC has closely followed government advice regarding further sanctions,” the private group added.
In a coordinated response, the United States, European countries and others took the unusual step of targeting Russia’s central bank with financial sanctions and limiting cross-border transactions by the country’s biggest lenders.
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Maersk owns 31% of Russian port operator Global Ports, which operates six terminals in Russia and two in Finland. Global Ports shareholders also include Russian state nuclear company Rosatom and Russian businessman Sergey Shiskarev.
“With Global Ports, we are reviewing how to comply with the ever-changing sanctions and restrictions and preparing for possible next steps,” Maersk said.
Maersk operates container shipping routes to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea, Novorossiysk in the Black Sea, and to Vladivostok and Vostochny on the east coast of Russia.
The Copenhagen-based company has around 500 employees in Russia. Last week, it temporarily interrupted all stops in Ukraine, where it has around 60 employees in Odessa.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, Nikolaj Skydsgaard, Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen and Gus Trompiz in Paris; editing by Jason Neely, Louise Heavens, Tomasz Janowski and Paul Simao)
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