(Updates with MSC comment, further detail)
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON, June 7 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s Evergreen and Hong Kong’s OOCL said on Wednesday they had suspended shipping services to Qatar after Arab countries severed diplomatic ties with the Gulf state and imposed port restrictions this week.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are among those to have cut ties with Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism, an accusation Qatar vehemently denies.
Qatar is dependent on imports for its basic needs, which are transported by land and sea. Container ships carry vital consumer supplies, including food. Fewer container services will also hurt Qatar’s ability to trade.
Evergreen, the world’s no.6 container shipping line and OOCL, the world’s no. 7 carrier, said in separate statements that they had temporarily suspended services to and from Qatar until further notice.
Evergreen said this was “in light of the blockade imposed on Qatar”, while OOCL cited “the current political climate in the region”.
“We are working closely with our stakeholders to address the impact on services,” OOCL added.
Denmark’s Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping line, said on Tuesday it was unable to transport goods in or out of Qatar because it could not take them through the United Arab Emirates port of Jebel Ali. Maersk added that it was trying to find alternative routes.
In contrast, the world’s No.2 line, MSC of Switzerland, said on Wednesday “cargo acceptance to and from Qatar is still ongoing”.
“The company is in dialogue with the relevant authorities and assessing the potential impact on its operations,” MSC said.
The ban imposed earlier this week has meant that container ships and other types of vessels sailing to and from Qatar will be prevented from calling at major ports in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which include Jebel Ali, as well as Bahrain.
The UAE said on Wednesday that more moves against Qatar, including further curbs on business, remained on the table.
Larger container ships are unable to dock at ports in Qatar due in part to shallow waters so shipping lines especially use feeder services, which transport container boxes from the larger port of Jebel Ali.
Evergreen said before the suspension it had offered a direct service to Doha by taking cargo slots on ships operated by France’s CMA CGM, the world’s no.3 line.
Evergreen said other cargoes had been separately transhipped via Jebel Ali.
CMA CGM did not immediately respond to requests for comment over whether it had suspended services. (Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris, editing by Louise Heavens and Elaine Hardcastle)