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The US containership company Matson, which has been making record profits as freight rates and whose stock hit a new all-time high today, announced it would be diverting ships to Tonga, as well as donating a portion of its earnings to relief efforts.
The company announced this week that it will contribute $375,000 New Zealand Dollars – roughly a quarter-million USD – in goods and services toward Tonga disaster relief and has scheduled a special voyage departing Auckland, New Zealand this week with relief goods donated by the company and destined for Tonga. Two additional extra-schedule relief voyages are planned for departure from Auckland during the next three weeks.
On Friday, January 21, Matson delivered the first ocean shipment of goods to Tonga since the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai underwater volcano and the resulting tidal wave that struck the island nation on Saturday, January 15.
“Our hearts are with the people of Tonga as they work to recover from the devastation caused by the eruption and tidal wave,” said Matt Cox, Chairman and CEO of Matson. “We are committed to helping with recovery efforts in the way we know best — by getting much-needed supplies, equipment, and donations to Nuku’alofa as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The company can afford to be generous. According to a recent filing Matson has estimated total operating income just north of $445 million for the final quarter of 2021. This brings the total to over a billion dollars for the year. To put this in context during the six pre-pandemic years, the company generated operating income that averaged ~$156 million.
In addition to income from its containerships, the company reported a near 50% operating income increase at their intermodal services division Matson Logistics.
And, while some of the company’s competitors have started sharing windfall profits with their employees, (Read: China’s COSCO Pays Huge Bonuses 30 Times Worker’s Salary Amid Container Shipping Boom), most of the company’s shipboard crews are members of unions that last negotiated pay agreements while earnings were in the doldrums. Senior ship officers gCaptain spoke to said that capital expenditure budgets for repairs are still tight and there has been no communication from the office about stock purchase plans or additional bonuses.
“Hopefully they are saving up to announce new ships soon,” said a top officer aboard one Matson ship. “The C9’s and D7s need to be replaced.” D7 refers to the three relatively ancient and small 1,668 TEU ships Anchorage / Kodiak / Tacoma built in the mid-80’s. C9 refers to the 40-year-old Manoa and Mahimahi which can only carry 2,824 TEU containers (or 1,400 full-sized 40-foot containers).
Matson operates regular service to Nuku’alofa from its South Pacific hub at Auckland. Its vessel Liloa II made its regularly scheduled port call at Nuku’alofa on Thursday, five days after the disaster struck. Thanks to the collective efforts the vessel was able to discharge its full load of containerized general cargo, a combination of frozen, refrigerated and dry food, water, and household goods.
In order to expedite relief shipments to Tonga, Matson is redirecting its vessel Kamokuiki for a special voyage to deliver disaster relief goods donated by the company and community groups. The ship, which normally operates Matson’s China-Auckland Express service, will depart Auckland on Thursday, January 27 and arrive at Nuku’alofa on Monday, January 31 before returning to the CAX service.
In addition, on February 2, Matson’s vessel Papa Mau will depart Auckland carrying regular cargo and relief goods destined for arrival at Nuku’alofa on February 7. The ship will make a second special voyage departing Auckland on February 16 and arriving at Nuku’alofa on February 21.
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