Coronavirus Outbreak Cuts China's Container Volumes

Port of Shanghai (file image)

Published Feb 7, 2020 11:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

According to ocean freight data firm Alphaliner, container traffic has fallen by more than a fifth at the major Chinese container ports since the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak began in mid-January. 

“The full impact of the Chinese coronavirus outbreak on container volumes will not be fully measurable until ports announce their throughput numbers for the first quarter, but data collected on weekly container vessel calls at key Chinese ports already shows a reduction of over 20 percent since January 20," Alphaliner said in a statement. 

Overall, the slowdown in Chinese manufacturing and port operations due to the outbreak could shave up to seven tenths of a percentage point off of global container volumes this year, Alphaliner warned. 

The disruption on Chinese shores has ripple effects for the global container industry. With major ocean carriers blanking multiple sailings to Chinese ports in order to bring capacity in line with demand, the service frequency for shipments along the core Asia-Europe trade lane is reduced. In addition, Alphaliner warned that the blank sailings could make it harder to bring capacity back up again once the epidemic has passed. 

"Since these extended void sailing programmes on long-haul services are slated to continue until mid-March, any cargo volume recovery could be negatively affected, even after the end of the [Lunar New Year] holidays," Alphaliner cautioned.

The congestion in China is having a knock-on effect in neighboring countries' ports, which are picking up some of the transshipment traffic that might otherwise occur in China. It is even a storage issue in some areas: in Busan, South Korea, international shippers are using container yards to store China-bound cargo for later delivery after the congestion in Chinese ports dies down, a Busan port official told Reuters.