Number of ports experiencing some delays in cross-border trucking services, with rail and barge delays increasing noticeably.
The results of the sixteenth survey of global ports have been published in the WPSP- IAPH COVID19 Port Economic Impact Barometer today, with an even spread of 70 participants worldwide.
The share of ports facing a significant drop in container vessels calls (i.e. in excess of 25%) dropped further to 2% . Some three quarters of ports are reporting that vessel calls are similar or even higher compared to the same period the year before. The evolution continues to evolve in a positive direction given the surge of container volumes on some trade routes (e.g., trans-pacific) combined with a sharp decrease in idle container vessel capacity since July/August 2020.
Co-author Professor Theo Notteboom commented: “Containerized cargo and other cargoes are on a par with, if not above, the expected levels for this period of the year. Cargo vessel traffic is now getting back to normal. There has been a recovery in goods related to several industries – such as exporting/importing for the steel industry or the movement of automotive units.”
Cruise and passenger services still remain seriously impacted
The cruise/passenger market remains the most affected by the COVID-19 contagion. In week 6 of 2021, 57% of respondents indicate that passenger vessel calls are down more than 50%, in many cases even down more than 90%.
In some parts of the world, the lack of passenger ships arrivals continues; specific ports reported an annual decline approaching 90% of the expected normal. There are still cases where due to the applied restrictions on people movements, the passenger vessels are used mainly for carrying cargo. Many ports report the cruise season as ‘canceled for the entire season’, with cruise vessels berthing only for lay-up or shipyard.
Increase in barge and rail delays on the intermodal leg
The situation in hinterland transport slightly deteriorated compared to November and December 2020. November seemed to present a turning point. While in October, none of the ports were reporting delays (6-24 hours) or heavy delays (> 24 hours) in cross-border road transportation, this figure bounced up to 16.3% in November (week 45) and increased further to 20% in February 2021. While this percentage is far below the figures of more than 40% in weeks 15 and 16, it shows that fewer ports are experiencing normal cross-border trucking operations.
Whilst trucking availability remains unaffected, some 18.6% of ports face disruptions in rail services, up from the record low figure of 4.9% in October (week 41) and 11.1% in December 2020. The situation for barge services has significantly deteriorated, with 30% of ports now reporting delays.
Co-author Professor Thanos Pallis commented : “The sudden recent surge in volumes on several big trade routes is testing the capacity limits of some ports/terminals and their inland transport systems, leading to disruptions in hinterland transport connectivity in some ports.”
Reports of under-utilization of quayside and port warehousing areas on the increase
On the quayside and close beyond the gates, more ports are reporting an underutilisation of local warehousing and distribution facilities for foodstuffs and medical supplies, and consumer goods. This figure went up from 3.8% in week 50 of 2020 to 16% in week 6 of 2021 for foodstuffs and medical supplies and from 1.9% to nearly 17% for consumer goods. In addition, an elevated 30% of ports are reporting underutilization of liquid bulk storage facilities in February 2021, the highest figure since the start of the surveys. Fuel consumption and storage is down due to lower demand.
Availability of port workers back to normal
In the past few months, the COVID-19 crisis has a very limited impact on the availability of port-related workers. Only 8.7% of the ports mention that they face shortages of dockworkers, a figure that is a bit above the record low of 5.4% in week 29 and far below the 12-13% range in weeks 23 to 27. In the meantime, only 2.9% of the sample face shortages for the delivery of technical-nautical services and Only 7.2% of the port authorities report a moderate to a more serious decline in shore staff availability. This is far below the figures of the first weeks of the barometer (i.e., 26% in week 18, 22% in weeks 16 and 17, and 28% in week 15), but slightly higher than the 4 to 5% in November and December 2020.
Crew changes register only a slight improvement
On a global scale, 44% of ports that provided information on crew changes reported no crew changes had taken place in week 6 of 2021, down from 55% in week 27. In a quarter of 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 continue to show the best picture in terms of the crew change situation. In North America, crew changes remain at a low level, with 50% of ports indicating there have not been any crew changes in week 6 of 2021. This figure is comparable to the 57% in week 27. Overall, the crew change situation remains more precarious in the Americas compared to Europe. Several responding ports replied that crew changes are possible, but there have not been any vessel calls for crew changes.
The feedback to the survey also reemphasized that ports have no say in neither decisions related to crew changes nor in terms of overlooking the implementation process, as these changes depend on other authorities and procedures beyond the port.