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REFILE-Chinese shipbuilder New Times declares force majeure due to coronavirus

(Corrects phrasing in first paragraph, changes to “annum” from “annual” in second paragraph)

BEIJING, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A Chinese shipbuilder has declared force majeure on deliveries of two newcastlemax dry bulk vessels, a company spokesman said on Wednesday, as a coronavirus outbreak and prolonged holiday impeded workers from returning to work.

Jiangsu New Times Shipbuilding Co, with a production capacity of 5 million deadweight tonnes (DWT) per annum, has issued a force majeure notice to 2020 Bulkers, a Bermuda-based cargo operator, following the virus epidemic.

Two newcastlemax dry bulk vessels due to be delivered in April and May are facing possible construction delays, 2020 Bulkers said in a statement on Tuesday, citing a force majeure declaration from New Times on Feb. 5.

A New Times spokesman confirmed the force majeure on the two vessels. “Workers are still not coming back to their positions due to the coronavirus. It is not known when they will resume work and when the two vessels will be completed.”

The death toll of the coronavirus in the country reached 1,113 by the end of Tuesday, while total infections hit 44,653, according to the state’s health commission.

Chinese authorities have asked companies to put workers into quarantine for 14 days after returning from their hometowns for the Lunar New Year holiday, which has been extended by a week, in order to rein in the spread of the virus.

The China Association of the National Shipbuilding Industry data shows that around 75% of workers have come back to work at key shipbuilding companies in the southeastern provinces of Fujian and Liaoning, but only around 62.5% workers returned to Shanghai as of Monday.

However, shipbuilding companies at Guangdong, Shandong and Jiangsu, where New Times is located, are seeing workers “gradually” restart to work, the association said.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and Tony Munroe, editing by Louise Heavens