Reduced cargo volumes intensify competition in inland transport modes

According to the new WPSP Port Economic Impact Barometer report, lower overall container vessel calls persist whilst many ports in the survey sample experience upticks in general cargo vessel calls.  Many ports in different regions have reported intensifying competition among respective truck and barge owner-operators.

Blank sailings, mainly on trade routes with the Far East, continue to affect this week’s results for container vessels. However, their impact is lower than the one recorded by the Barometer the last five weeks. About 45% of the ports are reporting that the number of container vessel calls fell by 5% to 25% compared to a normal situation. 

This figure is higher than 39% in week 23, but comparable to the figures of weeks 19 and 21. Another observation this week has been the call sizes in terms of overall container moves, with records being broken at individual hub ports because of the many blank sailings. 

Reports have come in of 18,000 plus TEU being handled on one ultra large container vessel (ULCV) call in Europe and over 34,000 TEU on another in North America. Similar testaments of other ports in these two regions will mean they will be kept busy with these mini cargo peaks in the coming weeks.

Nonetheless in response to the question about availability and capacity of trucks and barges for hinterland and cross-border transport, many ports in different regions report intensifying competition among respective truck and barge owner-operators for increasingly scarce road and waterway cargo volumes.

In Europe, the lower levels on key river routes such as the Rhine have only exacerbated the problems for barge owners trying to deliver cargos inland.

The share of ports reporting reductions in other cargo vessel calls of more than 25% gradually decreased from 16% in week 21 to 4% this week, which is also far below the 12% to 15% observations throughout weeks 16 to 20. 

Some 59% of the ports are now reporting that the number of calls by other cargo vessels is rather stable compared to a normal situation, the highest figure to date. Some ports, particularly in Europe, are reporting an increase in tanker vessel calls.

Overall for the 75 port samples, hinterland transport operations are back to working fairly close to normal, especially in many of the European countries where businesses are gradually reopening. 

The reduced cargo volumes are not seen as irrelevant for the absence of delays. Some economic activities are starting to resume with goods flows just beginning to pick up. Nonetheless, this is only happening very slowly.

Even though large parts of North America are still fighting to get the number of infections down, the overall impact on hinterland transport has been small. In some regions of Central and South America, delays in hinterland transportation and cross-border delays have not yet disappeared with the COVID19 contagion spreading further. 

With lower maritime volumes arriving/leaving ports in all three regions considered, the situation in road haulage and inland barge operators has become very competitive. Rail services are only occasionally disrupted with services experiencing few difficulties related to the crisis.

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