Ports in Europe more affected by fewer cargo ship calls, report shows

Many of European ports are already feeling a greater impact of reduced cargo vessel calls than other regions of the world, a new report finds.

Port of Rotterdam/Kees Torn

The IAPH-WPSP Port Economic Impact Barometer is the fifth report prepared and released on 8 May by the World Ports Sustainability Program (WPSP) – the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) World Ports COVID-19 Task Force.

As informed, the European region also has a smaller share of ports now facing capacity shortages of warehousing and storage facilities with a progressive overall decline in utilization being reported over the time period.

Moreover, it appears that the European region is slightly more impacted by shortages of dockworkers, with 28 per cent reporting this occurrence during the recent week.

Full impact of reduced cargo vessel calls yet to be felt

Despite the impact of vessel calls increasing across the board, almost all of the 76 ports that took part in the last week’s survey reported a 5 to 25 per cent decrease.

The share of ports facing significant decreases fell sharply from 10-11 per cent to less than 2 per cent last week. The situation for the other cargo vessels has remained fairly unchanged. The number of ports reporting reductions of more than 25 per cent remained at a level of 12 to 14 per cent. throughout weeks 16 to 19, according to the findings.

“The general loss of cargo for containers is probably less evident than expected, as April has closed with negative year-on-year figures that are much better than initially forecasted,” Professor Thanos Pallis, co-author of the report, commented.

“The decrease in the number of container vessels is not always directly related to the COVID 19 crisis. Some report on the increase in blank sailings, mainly on the Europe-Far East routes, for others there are no more blank sailings registered but total calls are still down some 20% with respect to a normal fully operational week. Regional feeders in substitution of calls by mega vessels are working well, but shippers do not always welcome the longer transit times associated with transshipment.”

Cross border controls persist for trucks in the hinterland

About 12 per cent of the ports surveyed report delays or heavy delays in cross-border road transportation with 6 per cent of the ports indicating that cross-border trucking has been discontinued.

Although this is a minor improvement compared to the last week in April, the situation remains precarious for a number of ports.

In some cases, ports have sought to alleviate congestion at the quayside caused by increased controls on trucks and truckers at borders by evacuating import containers en masse by rail, either to hinterland depots or to staging locations closer to the border away from the port. 

Europe is the region most impacted so far by reduced cargo vessel calls

European ports take the largest share of the weekly global port sample, accounting for between 38 and 54 per cent of all received answers. As an example, the share of ports facing declines in weekly calls of cargo vessels is much higher in Europe than ports globally.

The situation in European ports for container vessels and other cargo vessels has gradually deteriorated compared to the first week of the survey.

“In the coming weeks, several of the larger ports anticipate significant downturns in volumes due to blank sailings in the container segment. We expect these larger hubs to be impacted the most,” Professor Theo Notteboom, co-author, noted.

“Nonetheless, how much impact this will have on the global supply chain and how quickly economies will restart, especially in Europe, will require close monitoring.”