Thursday, July 23, 2020

Final World Ports Survey Shows Ravages of Pandemic May Actually Be Over Soon

Hopeful Signs as Maritime Activity Returns
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – It would seem to be a sure sign that the world is emerging from hibernation imposed by the coronavirus that the eleventh version of the bi-weekly IAPH-WPSP Port Economic Impact Barometer has been announced as the final one in the series. Active since 6 April 2020 on a weekly basis and then bi-weekly as of mid-May, co-authors Professor Theo Notteboom and Professor Thanos Pallis are working on a more comprehensive report to be published in September 2020. This summary report will provide a detailed analysis of the trends observed from survey weeks 15 to 29.

Even with a limited start to the hardest hit sector, cruise activity, this last in the series assessment shows a progressive improvement in three of the four survey questions asked of the world’s ports. With generalised lockdowns now limited, the return of vessels and the lower numbers of blank sailings continue, yet these happened at a slower pace. As a result, for the first time since starting the measurements, the percentage of ports reporting that the number of container ship calls compared to a normal situation has exceeded the 50% threshold.

A similar percentage has been recorded in the case of calls of vessels carrying other types of cargoes. Some of the ports that experienced a decline in the number of container ship calls reported further improvement, with vessel calls just over 5% less than normal. Several ports stated they are certain that in the current conditions, and given the numbers of blank sailings, in coming weeks they will soon head to almost similar numbers of calls compared to the same period the year before.

At the same time, maritime trade volumes have also started to increase, as several economies, or major parts of them, have returned to operations and increased the number of transactions. Summarising the work since early April involving eleven global port surveys by the WPSP Covid19 Task Force, co-author Professor Theo Notteboom commented:

“The adopted responsive measures and the endorsed adjustments in port operations, along with the full or partial reopening of the economies and, not least, several other initiatives aiming to mitigate risks and secure flows along maritime supply chains, have contributed to the success of most ports to remain operational while securing safety of workforce, providers and users. The current overall status of the port sector as reported by this Barometer during the Covid-19 crisis merits generating long-term observations as well as creating knowledge-sharing mechanisms.”

Meantime cruise ship calls remain at almost zero levels. However, this might not last long. Cruise lines’ announcements to return to operations have become more frequent than in previous weeks. The renewed activity recorded in the previous edition of the Barometer from passenger and RoPax vessels has not accelerated, at least not yet.

Crew changes continue to merit concern, globally 40% of ports in the survey reported no crew changes have taken place in week 29, down from 55% in week 27. In 4 out of 10 ports, a very limited number of crew changes have occurred (less than 5) compared to one third in week 27. When comparing regions, European ports continues to show the best picture in terms of the crew change situation, although almost two thirds of European ports only recorded less than a handful of crew changes in the past week.

In North America, crew changes remain at a low level with 44% of ports indicating there have not been any crew changes in week 29. However, this is a significant improvement compared to the 57% in week 27. The situation in Central and South America has also slightly improved. While there were no reported crew changes in week 27, a number of ports have indicated that crew changes have occurred this week.

The proposed summary report in September will include a section on the way forward following the ravages of the pandemic, with specific focus on tracking cargo flows, digitalisation in ports and the challenges and approaches to risk and resilience in the port environment. Co-author Professor Thanos Pallis observed :

“Based on our experience of the last 14 weeks, we should be capable of capturing trends early on in ports and maritime supply chains, especially during a crisis. Building capacity in the port sector to minimise risk is vital, and such reporting will support port resilience in terms of the present and future crises and any similar threats.”

The eleventh IAPH-WPSP Port Economic Impact Barometer can be downloaded HERE.

Photo: Image courtesy Ports of Stockholm.