* Typhoon Muifa nears Okinawa island, to head for China
* Forecasters warn storm could be area’s worst in years
* Several oil, dry bulk, container ports shut (New throughout)
By Fayen Wong and Randy Fabi
SHANGHAI/SINGAPORE, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Japan and China have suspended some operations at several oil, dry bulk and container ports ahead of a powerful typhoon that could be one of the worst in the area for years, industry officials said on Friday.
Ports in Japan’s Okinawa island closed as Typhoon Muifa neared its shores, while China’s ports in Ningbo and Zhoushan cut operations as forecasters predicted they would be hit over the weekend.
Okinawa ports, which include the container port of Naha and oil terminals in Kinwan, are relatively minor in size compared to their much larger counterparts on Japan’s mainland.
Traders did not expect any major disruption in Japanese maritime trade due to Muifa, located about 120 km (75 miles) south of Naha, Okinawa’s capital, at 2245 GMT.
It was moving west slowly, with winds of up to 162 kph, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
The typhoon is expected to move to the East China Sea later on Friday and could hit Shanghai and the neighbouring province of Zhejiang this weekend, forecasters said.
Authorities have ordered more than 4,000 vessels to return to harbour in Ningbo and Taizhou, while residents in seaside areas were alerted to prepare for a possible evacuation.
“We are monitoring the weather and haven’t closed off our operations yet, but we will most likely have to do that by tomorrow,” said an official at Shanghai’s Waigaoqiao Port.
According to local media, Shanghai’s Yangshan port was also bracing for inclement weather by sending out patrol boats to ensure all ships can be evacuated before the typhoon hits.
It has also warned cranes operating at the pier to take extra safety precautions to prevent accidents.
Chinese authorities warned that waters off Shanghai and Zhejiang could see waves of as much as 4.5 metres from Friday noon to Saturday noon, while the East China Sea could be rocked by waves up to 12 metres high.
Commodore Research said in a note on Thursday there was a risk of ports being damaged if Typhoon Muifa makes landfall close to a port, adding that coastal trade would also likely be affected in the Yangtze River Delta region.
The port of Ningbo, one of the busiest ports in the country, was no longer allowing vessels to berth but was allowing ships to depart, said a Chinese port official.
The Zhoushan port, one of the country’s biggest crude oil and coal shipping ports, has partially shut operations and would likely close by the weekend.
The Ningbo-Zhoushan region, the world’s fourth busiest trade zone, has a combined maritime capacity of more than 200 million tonnes and a container capacity of 5.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).
Not wanting to risk another bout of bad publicity, Shanghai railway authorities have also established an inspection team to examine high-speed railway facilities, stating that some train services may run behind schedule or even be halted if the storm is too severe.
Two high-speed trains crashed outside the city of Wenzhou last month, killing 40 people. Authorities blamed the weather for the accident. (Reporting by Fayen Wong in Shanghai and Randy Fabi in Singapore; Editing by Sugita Katyal)