COVID-19: Cargo build-up at ports

With the announced blank sailings in recent weeks, many ports are yet to experience the full impact of the current crisis on container volumes.

According to the first edition of COVID19 Port Economic Impact Barometer by the International Association of Ports and Harbors and World Ports Sustainability Program, there are cargo build-up at some ports and fairly stable port worker availability.  The survey was sent to 273 ports from Africa, North America, Central and South America, Middle East/Central Asia, North Asia, South East Asia/Australasia and Europe.

The first weekly report’s key findings include 

  • 35% of the ports reported extra restrictions in the last week on all incoming passenger vessels compared to 16% for all container vessels and 14% for all other cargo vessels.
  • The COVID19 crisis has resulted in 36% of ports reporting an increase in utilization of warehousing and distribution facilities for foodstuffs and medical supplies, with some ports reporting capacity shortages.  Only 1 out of 10 ports reported a minor under-utilization.
  • About 22% of the ports reported delays (6-24 hours) or heavy delays (> 24 hours) in cross-border road transportation. One port even indicated cross-border trucking has been discontinued.  Overall, 43% of respondents faced delays in cross-border trucking activities.  For trucks arriving or leaving the port, this figure amounted to 39%, rather evenly split between minor delays (less than 6 hours) and more severe disruptions.  Some ports reported that this situation is actually leading to a renewed interest in rail services.
  • Over 40% of the ports experienced moderate (minus 5% to 25%) and in some ports even significant decreases (in excess of a 25% drop) in the number of calls of container and other cargo vessels.  As expected, the cruise/passenger market has been most affected by COVID-19 contagion.  Two thirds of the respondents indicated that passenger vessel calls are down by more than 50%, in some cases even down more than 90%.

Professor Theo Notteboom, one of the report’s author, commented: “Given the tsunami of announced blank sailings in recent weeks, many ports are yet to experience the full impact of the current crisis on container volumes.”



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