Ports Forecast Declining Volumes due to Canceled Sailings

Port of Oakland (file photo)

Published May 14, 2020 1:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ports around the globe are starting to feel the impact of the economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Many shippers and ports are expecting the declines to increase in the coming weeks.

The Port of Houston, the sixth-largest container port in the United States, reported at 12 percent decline in the number of containers handled in the port (221,540 TEUs) during April. Further, total tonnage was down 10 percent at Port Houston’s public facilities in April, including a significant decline in steel cargos primarily used by the region’s energy industry. Year-to-date, the port reported, steel volume is down 50 percent to less than 800 thousand short tons.

Commenting on the outlook the port’s executive director Roger Guenther noted so far that seven sailings have been canceled for June bringing the port’s total to 26 canceled sailings this year.

“It’s yet to be seen what July will look like but hopefully we’ll see some improvement into the summer,” Guenther said.

Similarly, the ports in California are also reported declines in volumes as the trans-Pacific trade routes are impacted. 

The Port of Oakland, California, for example, reported that its total cargo volume – imports, exports, and empty container shipments – declined 6.5 percent in April. While export loads rose nearly four percent and loaded container volume increased 1.4 percent in April, it noted that imports dipped nearly one percent. Oakland also reported a 29 percent drop in shipments of empty containers back to origin destinations.

“Our April cargo performance was better than expected, but it was most likely a blip resulting from the release of pent-up demand when factories re-opened in China after being quarantined,” the Port said in a statement. “We’re faring better than some other ports, but our forecast in the coming months is overall volume throughput decline of 5 to 10 percent.”

Oakland also reported that shipping lines have canceled 11 percent of their scheduled vessel calls in May and June due to dwindling demand by shippers for vessel space.

Most ports and shippers expect the impact will continue in the near term. Recent reports from China show continuing volume declines in early May from the major ports.