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Major European ports affected by Coronavirus repercussions

Ports of Hamburg and Gdansk have published first-quarter reports with the Covid-19 consequences dominating their performance. Even Germany’s largest universal port is affected by the global pandemic, with its 2020 Q1 numbers being considerably decreased to the respective ones in 2019.

Hamburg's seaborne cargo throughput at 32.4 million tonnes was 7.9% down, while container handling at 2.2 million TEU sees a 6.6% drop. Container hinterland transport services, however, remain comparatively stable, while the drop in demand for transhipment handling was more obvious, according to the port authority.

Credits: Port of Hamburg Marketing

The slackening of import and export flows apparent in the port of Hamburg can be explained by the interruption to transport and supply chains caused by the impact of the Coronavirus crisis, according to a statement.

“The partial shutdown of the Chinese economy, resulting in blank sailings in shipping, has led to lower cargo handling in Hamburg as well,” explained Axel Mattern, joint CEO of port of Hamburg marketing.

Among the Port of Hamburg’s most important partner countries by volume on seaborne container traffic, first-quarter trends varied a great deal. The German port saw the total number of containers it handled for its most crucial partner, China, falling by 14.6% compared to the same period in 2019 at 579,400TEU. “The downturn in seaborne cargo throughput with China is explicable in connection with the repercussions of the corona crisis,” said Mattern.

Credits: Port of Hamburg Marketing

At the same time the US, Hamburg's second-largest container partner, accounted for 146,100TEU, which translates to a significant 20.7% growth. This uptrend is attributable to four new container services started from Hamburg at the beginning of 2019, according to Mattern.

In third place with 111,000TEU, Singapore also achieved an advance in the first three months of the year. Growth of 10.5% was reported for seaborne container traffic. Axel Mattern surmised that Singapore results can be explained by the transfer of transhipment services from other Asian countries to Singapore.

In Hamburg, by contrast, the transhipment sector, or container throughput between ocean-going and feeder vessels, was especially affected by the corona crisis with a decline of 10.8% to 772,000TEU. Seaport-hinterland container services by rail, truck and inland waterway craft proved more stable in the first quarter, volume being just 4% lower at 1.4 million TEU.

Of such significance for the Port of Hamburg, railborne freight transport, down 4.3% at 12 million tonnes, or 4.6% at 663,000TEU, on the first quarter of 2019, was still at a considerably higher level than the 612,000TEU for 2018 Q1.

"Despite temporarily lower container volumes caused by the corona crisis, in the first quarter the Port Railway was able to report stable utilization and indeed even to improve on the 2018 level," commented Jens Meier, CEO of Hamburg Port Authority.

Credits: Port of Hamburg Marketing

For the next few months, Axel Mattern assumes that the Port of Hamburg must initially adapt to a continuation of blank sailings and falling total throughput, but he also forecasts a potential increase in sailings and rising volumes thanks to a possible gradual pick-up in the economy of China and Europe from June.

Port of Gdansk has also announced a weaker performance in the first quarter of the year compared to 2019 Q1. Gdansk transhipments decreased by 8.3% at the level of 11.3 million tonnes. "Decreases were recorded in most cargo groups, apart from grain (+223%), LPG (+27%), and other bulk cargo (+6.4%)," stated the port.

Container volumes shrank slightly by 2.1% at Gdansk, reaching 474,393TEU in the first quarter. As such, the Polish port remained the second-largest container port in the Baltic Sea behind the port of St. Petersburg.

On the other side, the Ro-Ro sector saw a huge decline of 23.8%. This massive drop is mainly a result of a lower number of commercial vehicles, according to the Port of Gdansk Authority.

Port of Riga, on the contrary, has published a positive road cargo report for the first quarter of the year. The flow of cargo transported by road in the Latvian port has increased by 12% compared to the first quarter of 2019. In the same way, the number of trucks increased by 15,700 in 2020 Q1, reaching 134,985 cargo-carrying trucks.

The major part of all road cargo was handled at terminals located on the right bank of the River Daugava, including those in Rinuzhi, according to the announcement.

Several port terminals and warehousing companies operate in Rinuzhi, including the SIA “Rīgas universālais termināls” (RUT), which in cooperation with its largest bulk cargo supplier, the Freeport of Riga Authority, Latvian Road Transport Directorate and the SRS Customs Authority, has launched a pilot project with the aim to digitize document circulation for road cargo transportation to the port terminals and to automate road transport service in the port territory.

In recent years, more than 13 million tons of cargo per year or 40% of all cargo handled in the port has been transported by land to and from the port of Riga.

“Automation will make processes more accurate and safe from human error. As a result, it will be faster, cheaper and more efficient for the terminal. The first system tests to be carried out at our terminal are scheduled in a month, said Janis Kasalis, member of the board and the executive director of the SIA “Rīgas Universālais Termināls”.

"According to our calculations, we will be able to provide services in automated mode to almost 30 thousand trucks a year after the implementation of the pilot project in automated mode. After that phase other customers can be connected to the system. If about 90% of the cargo (in total) handled at our terminal is received by road, then the benefit of digitising and automating the road cargo transport service system will be quite impressive,” emphasised Kasalis.

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