Published: 2020-04-24

COVID-19: impact of blank sailings starts kicking in

Shipping COVID-19: impact of blank sailings starts kicking in

Photo: WPSP

A taskforce comprising of experts from the World Ports Sustainability Programme (WPSP) and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) published a report suggesting, that blank sailings by world’s major container shipping alliances are starting to make a visible mark on port operations.

The situation for container vessel calls shows a clear deterioration compared to the previous two weeks. Only 41% of the respondents surveyed for the report, reveal a rather stable situation. 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.

According to Professor Theo Notteboom, one of the co-authors of the report, a reduction in vessel calls with blank sailings can be observed on the main East-West trades routes. Notteboom also said, that some ocean carriers replaced these cancellations by regional feeders with good frequency. A slight increase in containerised vessels has also been noted, associated with the rise in demand for specific goods during the lock-down period.

The taskforce  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.

Yard congestion became a real challenge for many ports, especially given rules to only handle essential goods. As an answer to the problem, respective governments allowed a weekly release and acceptance of import-export of non-essential goods on average of three days a week. The move resulted in a drop in storage utilization at some container yards by up to 60%.

According to Professor Thanos Pallis, another of the report's co-authors, at the same time the lockdown of major industries led to underutilization of terminals and storage areas for other types of cargo, including black and white breakbulk cargos, steel, heavy lift cargo and machinery. Liquid bulk has also been affected and is suffering from a non-favourable downward trend in market demand.

The WPSP-COVID 19 taskforce also release an updated version of their guidance for ports. This initiative is led by Tessa Major, the Brazilian Port of Açu's Director of International Business and Innovation and provides fresh input from a number of experts from the ports of of Antwerp, Busan, Felixstowe, Guangzhou, London, Los Angeles, Mombasa and Rotterdam as well as digital trade logistics advisors Maritime Street.

The document can be downloaded directly from WPSP's website.


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