COVID-19’s impact on ports in the period April 2020 to April 2021 is analysed in a new report

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has generated diverse temporal and spatial impacts on world ports,” concludes new analysis.

The ‘IAPH-WPSP Port Economic Impact Barometer One Year Report: A survey-based analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on world ports in the period April 2020 to April 2021’ found that while ports suffered in the early months of the pandemic, by summer 2020 they experienced significant recovery.

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Since summer 2020 “trade and cargo volumes have seen a remarkable recovery, particularly in segments that usually face declining demand during a crisis,” noted the report.

Recovery hasn’t been plain sailing though. As the report explained: “While blank sailings and declining port throughput marked the first half of the analysis period in this report, the second half was characterized by container availability issues, very tight vessel capacity, and terminal congestion. The resulting disruptions in global supply chains were further reinforced by other events such as the Suez Canal blockage in late March 2021.”

The report found the impact of the pandemic on the supply chain to be a key challenge for the resilience and adaptability of ports. It added that information exchange, sharing of (best) practices, and co-ordination/cooperation among all relevant stakeholders is essential for managing pandemic-related issues and to be better prepared for future disruptions.

New normal for container trade

The container sector has recovered, but to a “new normal” rather than the exact conditions pre-COVID-19.

Blank sailings, mainly on trade routes with the Far East, dominated the first half of the survey period.

In the period between early April and mid-July 2020 between 40% and just over 50% of all respondents indicated that container vessel calls were down by more than 5%. However, by September 2020 (week 36) this was a much lower 28%.

In April 2021, some 29% of the ports report that the number of container vessel calls fell by more than 5% compared to a normal situation. This figure is much lower than the peak of 53% in week 21 and also below the 40-41% in the first weeks of the survey. In the last three months of 2020, this figure still stood at around 35%.

The share of ports facing a significant drop (over 25%) in container vessel calls reached 4.8% in April 2021, a figure that is about half of the results of weeks 17, 18, and 20. About two-thirds of ports report that vessel calls are similar or even higher compared to the same period the year before.

However, it noted over the past several months, the container sector has seen occasional extra loaded vessel calls in addition to their weekly schedule of services. At the same time, on-time arrival performance for scheduled services has declined.