REFILE-Malaysia seeks to clear congested ports to move essentials amid curbs

(Corrects to add dropped word "ports" in penultimate paragraph)

KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 (Reuters) - Malaysia's freight forwarders have been asked to clear shipments as major ports clog up in the second week of a restricted movement order imposed to fight the coronavirus, the transport minister said on Thursday.

Malaysia has closed its borders to travellers, restricted internal movement and shut down non-essential businesses until April 14 to contain the spread of the virus.

Ports and logistics companies were allowed to operate, but non-essential businesses faced problems moving goods out of ports, the Federation of Malaysia Freight Forwarders said on Monday.

It said in a statement the backlog of non-essential goods, which make up 80% of cargo volume, would affect port operations and capacity.

"Currently, Port Klang, Port of Penang, and Johor Port in Pasir Gudang have reached nearly 100% of their capacities to hold goods," Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said in a statement.

The congestion must be cleared to avoid disruptions to the supply of imported essential goods, Wee said.

The ministry gave freight forwarders and haulage companies a special exemption to remove their goods, including non-essential items, out of ports over the weekend.

Malaysia's tally of coronavirus cases has surged to 1,796, making it the hardest-hit country in Southeast Asia. (Reporting by Mei Mei Chu Editing by Robert Birsel)