Asian Gypsy Moth infestation could halt shipping

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As the Asian Gypsy Moth (AGM) ‘season’ gets underway, US and Canadian authorities are actively intercepting infested vessels in efforts to prevent infestation of the countries’ forests and damage to agriculture. At risk are bulk cargo, grain and container vessels, as well as fishing vessels and cruiseships.

The American P&I Club has issued an alert to its members, attaching a detailed presentation issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection in co-operation with the US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This is aimed at raising further awareness within the maritime community of the dangers of spreading the AGM into North America.

The presentation reviews the programme for preventing the spread of this pest, identifies what will happen to a vessel if the AGM is discovered on board, and provides guidance to vessel operators in response to AGM being found.

This is a serious threat to operators trading ships to the US west coast, says the club, because vessels can be refused entry to US ports and, thereafter, entail the testing, treatment and re-inspection of the vessel prior to permission for entry being given. Substantial delays may result.

The inspection programme identifies the AGM high-risk areas as being Japan, Korea, China and Siberia. “Any members whose ships call at ports in these places are encouraged to follow the prescribed preventative measures,” the club states.

Writing in the latest issue of Currents, the American Club’s magazine, US and Canadian government experts report that live AGM egg masses were found on an unprecedented number of commercial vessels calling at US west coast ports in 2008. This number had not been seen since the early 1990s.

In all of these incidents last year, delays in cargo loading and in routine clearance were significant, thereby resulting in loss of revenue and missed cargo charters, while in 10 cases consideration was given to order the vessels into international waters.

The periods of risk for the moths’ flight and infestation range from June 1-August 15 in southern Japan to July 15-October 1 in northern Japan and far east Russia. China and Korea have similar flight periods of risk. Generally, AGMs are ‘exported’ from East Asian ports between 24 and 60º north latitude.