For the first time since the WPSP survey began, a limited number of sampled ports in predominantly European countries are reporting some activity on passenger and mini- cruise services with major safety restrictions in place on numbers and trajectories. There are confirmed reports of limited ferry and river cruise services returning to operation as Continental Europe emerges from the lockdown. However in most parts of the rest of the world a complete ban remains in place on cruise and passenger vessel services due to immigration controls, with passengers only being permitted to enter in the case of repatriation. With many cruise vessels inactive, competition has been heating up between ports to attract owner operators to use their anchorage berths with reduced fee incentives. In some cases this has led to a shortage of anchorage space at ports due to idled container vessel tonnage, with many liquid bulk tankers and ro-ro vessels being used for floating storage during this low demand period. Co-author Professor Theo Notteboom commented : “Vessel activity was also affected by almost half of new car exports and the export of automotive components since the outbreak of COVID19.”
Lower overall container vessel calls persist whilst many ports in the sample experience upticks in general cargo vessel calls
Blank sailings, mainly on trade routes with the Far East, continue to affect this week’s results for container vessels. However, their impact is lower than the one recorded by the Barometer the last five weeks. About 45% of the ports are reporting that the number of container vessel calls fell by 5% to 25% compared to a normal situation. This figure is higher than 39% in week 23, but comparable to the figures of weeks 19 and 21. Another observation this week has been the call sizes in terms of overall container moves, with records being broken at individual hub ports because of the many blank sailings. Reports have come in of 18,000 plus TEU being handled on one ultra large container vessel (ULCV) call in Europe and over 34,000 TEU on another in North America. Similar testaments of other ports in these two regions will mean they will be kept busy with these mini cargo peaks in the coming weeks.
Nonetheless in response to the question about availability and capacity of trucks and barges for hinterland and cross-border transport, many ports in different regions report intensifying competition among respective truck and barge owner-operators for increasingly scarce road and waterway cargo volumes. In Europe, the lower levels on key river routes such as the Rhine have only only exacerbated the problems for barge owners trying to deliver cargos inland.
The share of ports reporting reductions in other cargo vessel calls of more than 25% gradually decreased from 16% in week 21 to 4% this week, which is also far below the 12 to 15% observations throughout weeks 16 to 20. Some 59% of the ports are now reporting that the number of calls by other cargo vessels is rather stable compared to a normal situation, the highest figure to date. Some ports, particularly in Europe, are reporting an increase in tanker vessel calls.
Impact by region of the crisis on hinterland cargo transits
Overall for the 75 port sample, hinterland transport operations are back to working fairly close to normal – especially in many of the (European) countries where businesses are gradually reopening . The reduced cargo volumes are not seen as irrelevant for the absence of delays. Some economic activities are starting to resume with goods flows just beginning to pick up. Nonetheless, this is only happening very slowly.
Even though large parts of North America are still fighting to get the number of infections down, the overall impact on hinterland transport has been small. In some regions of Central and South America, delays in hinterland transportation and cross-border delays have not yet disappeared with the COVID19 contagion spreading further. With lower maritime volumes arriving/leaving ports in all three regions considered, the situation in road haulage and inland barge operators has become very competitive. Rail services are only occasionally disrupted with services experiencing few difficulties related to the crisis.
Co-author Professor Thanos Pallis commented: “The next two bi-weekly Port Economic Impact Barometer reports will include regional comparisons on port capacity utilization, as well as port worker availability. We still continue to observe increasing regional disparities in terms of the impact of COVID19, also in the regions which are under-represented in the regular sample ports such as Southern Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Moving forward, our intention is to further examine the economic impact of the COVID19 crisis on ports in terms of medium and long-term business risk, which in turn will also allow us to provide insights into the post COVID19 global supply chain landscape.”
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 (sustainableworldports.org) covers five main areas of collaboration: energy transition, resilient infrastructure, safety and security, community outreach and governance.