High volume calls as a result of blank sailings put pressure on ports

According to the new WPSP-IAPH COVID19 Port Economic Impact Barometer, more ports than in any of the past surveys reported a return to business as normal as regards to the number of cargo vessels calls. Nonetheless, while cargo vessels beyond container ships increasingly arrive at the same numbers as the year before, the container trades continue to suffer from blank sailings. 

Co-author Professor Theo Notteboom commented: “As reported, during the last week, container ports experienced another wave of cancellations from many carriers for the third quarter, although they appear to be lower in numbers than the second quarter.”

The current situation has had serious consequences for some container terminals. Ultra large container ships (ULCS) calls are less frequent in numbers but are filled up with more cargo. Major container ports in both Europe and North America reported that the average moves per ULCS per call have significantly increased, with some hubs reaching up to 10.000 TEU moves. 

This is creating peaks in both ship-to-ship operations and yard activity at the terminals and is starting to impact land-side operations, especially on truck arrivals and departures.

Some ports reported that it takes days to return back to a normal situation at the yard and gates and lost movements of cargo are on the rise. The workforce in some ports are under increasing pressure as these peaks impact resource on some days, followed by several days off duty with no activity at all.

For trucks arriving or leaving the port, there is an improvement overall despite the spike in delays the last two weeks: 85% of ports report normal activity versus 78% in week 21 and only 63% in week 15. 

On one hand, ports have reported much less delays in cross border truck transportations in past two weeks. On the other hand, ports are reporting a worsening situation overall for trucks entering and leaving ports in the last five weeks, with a V-shape in delays from a low of 8.4% in week 23 to 14.6% this week which is almost back to the level in week 20. 

Reported issues of concern include potential disruptions due to the need to isolate increased numbers of truck drivers testing positive, as well as the congestion problems due to essential road maintenance.

Road congestion is on the rise for ports located within city limits or within proximity of conurbations, where regular traffic is on the rise due to easing of lockdowns or the beginning of the tourist season in the Northern Hemisphere where use of public transport is being discouraged.

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