Third COVID-19 world ports survey report : the impact of blank sailings starts kicking in

While average weekly number of container vessels calling remains down with further cancellations, some lines have replaced these by regional feeders with good frequency


While average weekly number of container vessels calling remains down with further cancellations, some lines have replaced these by regional feeders with good frequency. Updated WPSP-IAPH COVID19 guidance document for ports also released.

Antwerp, 24 April 2020

In the third of a series of weekly Port Economic Impact Barometer Reports by the WPSP-IAPH COVID19 Taskforce, the gradual impact of blank sailings by the world’s major container shipping alliances is beginning to be felt by ports.

The situation for container vessel calls shows a clear deterioration compared to the previous two weeks. Only 41% of the respondents report a rather stable situation (vs.52% and 54% in weeks 15 and 16 respectively). An elevated 42% of the ports experience moderate declines (minus 5% to 25%) in container vessel calls. Already 1 out of every 10 ports face significant decreases (in excess of a 25% drop), compared to less than 3% last week.

“We have begun to see a reduction in vessel calls with blank sailings on the main East-West trades” comments report co-author Professor Theo Notteboom. “Nonetheless an interesting development we have observed from the responses is that some ocean carriers have replaced these cancellations by regional feeders with good frequency. As a result, the reduced number of long-haul calls has been counterbalanced. There are also some cases in which a slight increase in containerised vessels has been reported with public demand for specific goods on the rise during the lock-down period” he added.

The Task Force has also reported some of the larger container lines requesting quays to be used for cargo storage for those containers where shippers or forwarders have opted for suspension of transit (SOT), predominantly inbound cargo from Asia to Europe and the Americas. Reports of transhipment hubs as well as main line ports having capacity available has alleviated some destination ports in terms of congestion.


Storage capacity levels on the quayside and in warehousing facilities stabilise in some ports

For some ports, yard congestion is the result of laden imports of non-essential goods including new cars, which remain in port longer than usual. When rules exist to only handle essential goods, the utilization of storage capacity within the ports has become critical. Therefore respective governments have now allowed the weekly release and acceptance of import / export of non-essential goods on average of 3 days a week; a move that has brought down storage utilization at some container yards by 60%.

“While on one hand container and general cargo storage area utilisation has increased, the lockdown of major industries has led to serious underutilization of terminals and storage areas and warehousing for several other cargoes” comments co-author Professor Thanos Pallis. “These include black and white breakbulk cargoes, steel, heavy lift cargo and machinery. Liquid bulk is still suffering from a non-favourable downward trend in market demand. Nonetheless in some cases, storage tanks for liquid bulk are already full or rented, so no more tank storage is available.”

WPSP-IAPH COVID19 Dashboard debut in Port Economic Impact Barometer Report


In order to provide a visual guide to the data accumulated so far from the world’s ports and to track the impact of COVID19, this third report also includes a dashboard summarising the main findings of the surveys so far. IAPH Managing Director Patrick Verhoeven explained : “In the coming weeks, we expect many ports will feel the full impact of the collapse of economic activity in many parts of the world. To help ports adapt to the new normal will not be easy. Having data on precisely what is going on is invaluable, which is why we call out to our members and all other ports to give us their input, even if the status from the previous week is the same.”

New version of WPSP-IAPH COVID19 Task Force guidance document for ports released

Tessa Major, WPSP-IAPH COVID19 Task Force Chair

Earlier this week, the WPSP-COVID19 Task Force released an updated version of their guidance document for ports, an initiative led by Tessa Major, the Brazilian Port of Açu’s Director of International Business and Innovation. The Task Force providing additional input into the latest version includes multidisciplinary port experts from the ports of Antwerp, Busan, Felixstowe, Guangzhou, London, Los Angeles, Mombasa and Rotterdam as well as digital trade logistics advisors Maritime Street.

Tessa Major commented : “This second edition of the guidance on ports’ response to the corona virus pandemic is structured along a three-layered approach, to present a methodology and a range of good practices for potential use regarding 1) immediate measures addressing port operations, governance and communication, 2) measures to protect the business and financial returns, and 3) measures to support customers and supply chain stakeholders. The document is continuously evolving and we anticipate an updated version next week based on input from the Task Force during our weekly conference call.”

News release contact details :

World Ports Sustainability Program – Victor Shieh, Communications Partner :

Tel : +32 473 980 855

Technical enquiries:

World Ports Sustainability Program – Dr. Antonis Michail, Technical Director :

You can provide input on your port's response to COVID-19 in the survey and contact our Task Force experts by email on

About IAPH (

Founded in 1955, the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) is a non-profit-making global alliance of 170 ports and 140 port-related organisations covering 90 countries. Its member ports handle more than 60 percent of global maritime trade and around 80 percent of world container traffic. IAPH has consultative NGO status with several United Nations agencies. In 2018, IAPH established the World Ports Sustainability Program (WPSP). Guided by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, it aims to unite sustainability efforts of ports worldwide, encouraging international cooperation between all partners involved in the maritime supply chain. WPSP ( covers five main areas of collaboration: energy transition, resilient infrastructure, safety and security, community outreach and governance.

Main image: Jerome Monta | Source: Unsplash