The staggering volume of blank sailings announced by ocean carriers in response to dwindling demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is having a ripple effect on global ports.
The impact of the trend has been relatively limited in the first quarter of the year, however, concerns have already been raised that the situation is likely to worsen in the second quarter of the year with much higher economic impact.
According to the data from Copenhagen based intelligence provider Sea-Intelligence, the number of blank sailings on the main east-west trades is now some 250-350% higher than what is normally seen during Chinese New Year.
The Asia-Europe trade lane has been affected the most, especially impacting the ports on the Mediterranean. The route hosts the majority of the world’s ultra-large containerships.
”As such, the calls to individual ports from these behemoths are an important part of both their operations and finances,” Alan Murphy, CEO, Sea-Intelligence, said.
“Looking at 2020-Q2, the hardest-hit ports in the Mediterranean are La Spezia, Tangiers, and Damietta which see more than 40% of their direct calls removed due to blank sailings from Asia. In North Europe, the hardest hit ports are Felixstowe, Zeebrugge, and Antwerp with roughly a 30% drop in vessel calls from Asia. “
According to Sea-Intelligence, there are only 7 ports that are presently not scheduled to experience blank sailings.
“This clearly shows that the capacity reductions performed by the carriers will not have an even impact across different cargo gateways, and as a consequence, this might serve to strengthen the longer-term competitive positioning of some ports over others in Europe,” Murphy added.
The Asia-North America trade lane has not been spared from the impact either, with the ports on the U.S. West Coast recording 123 blanked sailings, up by 280 per cent.
The U.S. top container ports, the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, have already seen the impact of the pandemic on their cargo volumes in March spurred by canceled sailings.
Port of Los Angeles has been faced with over 30 canceled sailings through mid-July, as informed by the port’s CEO Gene Seroka, back in mid-April.
Even though there have been no disruptions or congestion at the port, the trend of employing smaller vessels by carriers in order to accommodate to the new demand reality has been prevalent, he said at the time.
The Port of Los Angeles believes higher container volumes would be reported for April and May as manufacturing facilities in China ramp up production in the post-lockdown period.
Overall, for the entire year of 2020, Seroka expects considerably lower volumes to be handled than last year due to the ongoing pandemic.
On the East Coast, the percentage increase of blanked sailings when compared to the Chinese New Year is even higher standing at 311 per cent, with 56 blanked sailings.
Even though ports on the East Coast have been outperforming their West Coast counterparts in the first couple of months of this year, South Carolina Ports have revised the outlook for 2020 and 2021 announcing at the same time cost-cutting measures.
Despite cost-saving efforts, a number of U.S. ports announced they would be resuming with infrastructural investments in an attempt to preserve construction jobs and provide an economic boost to the contracted economic activity in the country.
These would, of course, be focused on strategic investments, as other less lucrative projects are delayed and put on the back burner.