June 12 ------ A new report from the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), a non-profit global alliance of 170 ports and 140 port-related organizations in 90 countries, provides a snapshot of the on-going economic impact of the coronavirus on global port operations. The report, which included a record response from 104 ports from around the world highlighted emerging trends in operations including an increase in high-frequency feeder services to regional ports, while ports continue to feel the impact of canceled sailings and the suspension of many passenger and ro-ro services. “Overall, a very fragmented situation for container shipping is becoming evident: some alliances have revamped services, whilst others are keeping cancellations,” said Professor Theo Notteboom, one of the report’s co-authors the report. “Some are keeping hi-frequency feeders to major regional ports. A new regional concept for transshipment appears to be emerging.”
Blank sailings, mainly on trade routes with the Far East, continue to affect results for container vessel calls, but according to the report the impact is declining versus prior weeks. More than a third of ports reported that container ship calls were down between 5 to 25 percent in the last two weeks versus a previous decline of 45 percent. Six percent of ports continue to experience a decline above 25 percent. In other areas, however, the report identified some improvements including three-quarters of ports reporting normal or a return-to-normal operations in cross-border transport by truck. While truck volumes remain lower on the roads, and especially in South America according to the IAPH, nearly all of the ports (92%) reported normal operations for trucks arriving or leaving the port at this time of year. Similarly, both rail and barge intermodal services are seeing fewer delays caused by the COVID-19 situation according to the report.
The survey also highlights that despite the spread of the virus that most ports have been able to maintain their workforces. Only 13 percent of the ports participating in the survey mentioned facing shortages of dockworkers. According to the IPHA, this is the lowest level since the survey began, but they highlighted that some ports have suffered from lower dockworker availability more than others depending on the average age of the workforce. “More than one port has a 30 percent incidence of workers over sixty either being unavailable or being obliged to take leave as a precaution due to being in the risk category by age,” said the report. One area of port operations that has been particularly hard hit, as expected, comes from the global suspension of most cruises and the limitations on passenger services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report highlights that nearly two-thirds of ports around the world have been confronted with a decline in passenger vessel calls of more than 50 percent with some amounting to as much as a 90 percent decline.
While cruise operations remain restricted, several European countries, including Finland, Greece, Italy, and Spain, have lifted previous restrictions on passenger transport according to the survey. It concludes that cruise traffic will continue to remain highly restricted, with many governments and health ministries imposing bans, some of which it expects will be enforced for the remainder of the year. “Some cruise-dependent ports have reopened cruise terminals, shops, and restaurants under strict conditions such as widespread use of liquid antiseptics, large ventilation fans, and social distancing,” says professor Thanos Pallis, co-author of the report. “However any full recovery will only commence once bans put in place by national governments begin to get lifted.”