Regardless of the Suez Canal blockade which has stolen the headlines during the past few days, the maritime industry’s importance in the supply chain and the flow of commodities and goods around the world has been highlighted, perhaps in the most prominent way, during the pandemic. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “since the start of the pandemic, the shipping industry has efficiently responded to ensure the continuity of operations and hence the security of supply of goods. We are witnessing an ongoing situation that is still evolving and the effects could be profound and long-term. Accordingly, how the shipping industry will look like post the pandemic is clouded and yet to be seen. With international transport at the cutting edge of trade and dependent on travel and human interaction, the maritime industry has been wedged both directly and indirectly from the covid-crisis.
According to Intermodal’s Katerina Restis, “focusing on the EU trade it has been reported that the number of vessel calls at EU ports declined by about 10.2% in 2020 compared to 2019. However, in February 2019, there were 50,823 ship calls at EU ports versus February 2021 that there were 51,157 ship calls. Therefore, it has lately been ascertained that the number of calls have increased by 1% in comparison with 2019, as trade activity in certain shipping sectors has rebounded YTD in 2021. The most significantly impacted sectors basis vessel’s calls at EU ports between 2019 and 2021, have been the cruise sector, passenger ships, refrigerated cargo vessels and vehicle carriers. In 2020, the ship traffic from Europe to China and the US has declined when compared to same periods in 2019 while this destructive trend continues in 2021 for certain shipping sectors. The EMSA report has indicated that the Cruises’ sector was the most heavily impacted one by the outbreak. Other sectors were also affected, but in general the trade didn’t cease with the main beneficiary over the past few months being the containers sector. As the epidemic continues to roll, ports have faced an unprecedented number of vessels at anchor and vessels queue-up waiting to discharge with logistics disruptions contributing to multi-year high container freight rates”.
Restis added that “during 2020, the imports from China to EU were heavily impacted especially since May 2020 and onward with only 36% of their usual volume of port calls coming into the EU from China. In reference to exports from Europe to China the first leading decline occurred in March 2020 with the number of port calls originated by the EU and destined to China, equal to only 58% of the volume of these port calls when compared with May 2019. Furthermore, USA used to be the biggest trading partner of the EU, but volumes were severely impacted, and China emerged instead as its largest trading partner. Asia’s exports to the West have emerged stronger in early 2021 with US containerized imports in particular – from Asia estimated up by approx. 29.0% y-o-y. The trend looks set to continue and is expected to exacerbate container vessels congestion in the west, as demand emerges stronger amid an unprecedented stimulus package in the US”.
The shipbroker’s analyst concluded that “unluckily, this worldwide outbreak has imposed urgent challenges for both the import and export trade for most of the ports around the globe. In addition, various disputes arose between Charterers and Owners, in reference to vessels’ hire period, lay-time, and discussions of relevant clauses. Repeatedly, the force majeure of the pandemic and the quarantine time prevented the contract completion as initially agreed and accordingly, the hire period agreement was surpassed in many charter parties worldwide. However, in sequence, the multiplier effect to trade from stimuli across the globe, excess consumer savings and increased congestion at ports has led certain shipping sectors to experience multi-year or record high freight rates with the hope that the new upward cycle that has emerged will be sustained. As a general comment, despite the difficulties, commercial ship operations, ports and other maritime transport sectors have continued to operate ensuring the movement of products and proving the strategical value of maritime for our livelihoods”, Restis concluded.