The transhipment of goods in North Sea Port drops for the first time in two years – 2023 first quarter figures

Published on Thu 20 Apr 2023
The seaborne transhipment of goods in North Sea Port declined in the first quarter of 2023 by 4% due to a drop in liquid bulk goods in particular. This is the first decline in over two years. The EU sanctions against Russia are becoming more evident.

In the first quarter of 2023, companies in the North Sea Port reported 17 million tonnes of seaborne transhipment of goods. Compared to the same period in 2022, this is a decline of 4%. This decline is noteworthy on the one hand because since the third quarter of 2020 - the height of the COVID crisis - the seaborne transhipment of goods continued to increase quarter after quarter with the absolute record year of 2022 as a result. On the other hand, in the second half of this record year, it became clear that this growth would not continue. Since the beginning of this year, the expectation was that the transhipment of goods would stabilise between 5 and 6 million tonnes per month. The seaborne transhipment of goods in the first quarter is in line with this expectation.

Dry bulk remains consistent, liquid bulk drops

In the first quarter of 2023, the seaborne transhipment of dry bulk recorded a slight increase, other segments showed less transhipment which is a break in the trend after the record year of 2022.

The transhipment of dry bulk rose slightly (+1%), and totalled 9.5 million tonnes. Oilseeds and ores increased, the transhipment of coal, gypsum, fertilisers, cement and metal scrap are declining.

The decline in liquid bulk (-13.9%) in particular is resulting in lower quarterly figures with a total of 3.6 million tonnes. This decline can be seen with liquid petroleum products and the basic chemical products.

The transhipment of containers has declined (-5.7%) and totals 0.5 million tonnes. This refers to an assortment of goods. The transhipment of fruits and vegetables by container has increased, however.

General cargo declined slightly (-4.1%) to 2.5 million tonnes of goods. Here, it concerns a drop in steel and a slight fall in fruit and vegetables in breakbulk.

Ro-ro declined (-8.5%) to 0.9 million tonnes. 

Trend break in inland navigation

The total transhipment by inland navigation was 15.3 million tonnes in the first quarter of 2023, a decline of 6.7%. This dip is mainly recorded in the transhipment of dry bulk goods. Just like with the seaborne transhipment in this quarter, inland navigation also broke the trend of increased goods transhipment that started at the end of 2020.

Consequences of the war in Ukraine are noticeable

In this first quarter of 2023, the geopolitical circumstances are now clearly being seen. After this quarter, Russia is now the 7th trading partner. With a total transhipment of 0.9 tonnes of goods, the decline is nearly half. Before the war, Russia was still the number one trading partner. This decline is compensated by extra transhipment from Australia in particular.

In the first quarter of last year, the consequences of the war for trade with Ukraine were not yet visible. This is not the case for the first quarter of this year, with a clear decline of nearly a fifth. This transhipment still totalled almost 300,000 tonnes.

Noteworthy is that Poland, with a growth of 184% to 0.5 million tonnes, is by now the 15th trade partner. This confirms that grain from Ukraine is also coming over water from countries like Poland to Western Europe. For Romania, we see the same phenomenon: a transhipment increase of 144%. In percentage points, this remains limited to 0.1 million tonnes.

Conclusion and forecast

The transhipment of goods in the first quarter of 2023 shows a dip when compared to the same period in the strongest year ever, 2022. Seaborne transhipment shows a clear decline in liquid bulk, and with inland navigation, this decline is largely in dry bulk goods. The expectation is that the seaborne transhipment of goods will be between 5-6 million tonnes per month in the coming period. We also expect that the trade with Russia and Ukraine will fall further.