Rotterdam - Container ship call numbers in European ports have been gradually improving over the past three weeks, despite the high levels of blank sailings on the trade, while calls at North American ports continue to decline as carriers extend the capacity withdrawals into the third quarter. The latest IAPH-WPSP Port Economic Impact Barometer, which polled 104 ports situated mainly in Europe, North America, and Central-South America, found that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and the blank sailings as carriers try to match capacity with weak demand, was having an uneven impact on regional hub gateways.
In the past week on the Asia-Europe and Asia-North America trades, carriers have announced that 15% more capacity will be removed from the market through August, increasing the amount of blanked capacity from 3.4 million TEU to just shy of four million TEU, according to Sea-Intelligence Maritime Consulting. This withdrawn capacity saw 39% of the ports polled by the IAPH-WPSP survey reporting their mainline container vessel call numbers falling by between 5% and 25% compared with numbers normally experienced at this time of year. However, the figure has improved since week 21 (May 18-24) when ship calls declined by 45%. European results revealed that vessel call numbers in week 19 fell to their lowest level since mid-April when the port barometer was launched, but that has been followed by a gradual improvement in the past few weeks.
However, the port poll noted that vessel call numbers were still declining in North America. Most ports in the US have registered year-to-date declines in both import and export volume in the first quarter of 2020 and are expecting a cautious rebound from importers in the second half. Port directors told JOC.com cargo volumes may start to pick up in the second half of the year as retailers ship holiday season merchandise. However, two of the three major carrier alliances this week announced they would continue blanking sailings in the third quarter. Carriers base their decisions on blanking future sailings on the information they receive from retailers about purchase orders in Asia, so last week’s capacity-trimming announcements from THE Alliance and the 2M Alliance indicate retailers expect a weaker peak season than in past years.(READ MORE)