North Sea Port sees decline in cargo transhipment in first quarter

Published on Mon 6 Apr 2020
At 16.7 million tonnes, North Sea Port recorded 6.6% less maritime cargo transhipment in the first quarter of 2020 than in the same period last year. The impact of the coronavirus was still limited in those first three months of the year.

16.7 million tonnes is in fact the average of first quarter cargo transhipment over the last five years. Only in 2019 and 2018 – record years – was a higher volume of maritime transshipment recorded in the first quarter. Container transshipments continued to increase and dry bulk was at a similar level to last year. In ro/ro, general cargo and liquid bulk, volumes fell. The decline was seen in both imports and exports.

The impact of the coronavirus on the first quarter was minor. It would seem that it was rather the economic climate that affected transhipment volumes, including greater fluctuations in the prices of raw materials and oil. It goes without saying that the impact of the coronavirus will be fully visible in the second quarter.

Decrease across various segments

Container transhipment increased by +11.6% to 659,000 tonnes. This represents a stabilisation compared to the strong growth of the past year, which was a result of the switch from break bulk to containers. Dry bulk remained at a similar level (-0.4%) at 8.2 million tonnes. Within this category, the transhipment of building materials, ores and fertilisers increased, whereas sand and minerals, coal and agricultural products fell.

The drop in seaborne cargo transhipment was seen across various segments. As a result of the decrease in vehicle transshipments – partly due to a halt in production at some manufacturers and import restrictions for the United Kingdom – ro/ro fell (-10%, 791,000 tonnes). General cargo declined by 12.3% to 2.5 million tonnes. As a result of reduced imports, the share of cellulose (for the production of paper) fell. Conversely, there was an increase in the transhipment of metal and steel structures. Liquid bulk fell by 14.8% to 4.4 million tonnes, with the decline in the transhipment of (petro)chemical products in particular catching the eye.

Transhipment via inland navigation remained stable during the first quarter of 2020 at 14.6 million tonnes. Total cargo transhipment by sea and inland navigation fell from 32.3 million tonnes last year to 31.4 million tonnes now.

Impact of the coronavirus on port authority and companies

There is no doubt that the coronavirus is having a severe impact – not only among numerous companies in the port zone, but also at North Sea Port itself, the port authority that operates and manages the cross-border port zone. The port authority logically expects a loss of income and a fall in cargo transhipment.

North Sea Port is currently seeing a very mixed picture in terms of port activities. Some companies have decided to temporarily halt their production or activities. Others are continuing to operate as before, though often with a reduced staff, or have adjusted their production. And a number of companies are actually very busy. The automotive, ro/ro and construction sectors in particular are feeling the effects of the coronavirus.

The number of ships is still at the same level as before, but an initial decrease in the number of ship movements can be seen in ro/ro. In the meantime, North Sea Port continues to focus on the essence of a port: allowing ships to enter and leave the port smoothly and safely at all times. Together with a large number of partners, the port authority is ensuring that there are sufficient pilots, lock and bridge keepers, boatmen/dockers so that the entire nautical chain continues to function.

North Sea Port provides financial assistance to land tenants

The coronavirus has also had substantial financial consequences, with companies North Sea Port potentially being affected. The port authority is therefore taking exceptional financial measures in these exceptional times. Companies that rent land from the port authority – ground lease on the Zeeland side, concessions on the Ghent side – can request a postponement of their rent payments.