Monthly cargo volume through global maritime ports fell steeply in February under the pressure of worldwide Covid-19 travel and business restrictions, marking its most abrupt decline since 2012 or longer, according to a report from U.K.-based shipping consultancy Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd.
Drewry’s “global container port throughput index” fell to 108 points in February 2020, 15.6% down month on month and 4.4% down year on year. That means the index plunged 20 points, which is the largest fall in a single month since the launch of the Drewry Container Port Throughput Index in January 2012.
Drewry’s Container Port Throughput Indices are a series of volume-tracking indices based on monthly throughput data for a sample of over 220 ports worldwide, representing over 75% of global volumes. The base point for the indices is January 2012 = 100.
According to Drewry’s analysis, port volumes in February have usually been low because of the Chinese New Year, but this year the steepness of the fall can be attributed to the coronavirus outbreak first noticed in China in January 2020. The pandemic forced factory closures across China beyond the usual New Year shutdowns, which resulted in a drop in Asia-U.S. cargoes. As a result, North America witnessed close to 60 blank sailings during the month.
The virus outbreak added to the woes of shipping lines which were already struggling with weaker markets and higher costs because of new “IMO 2020” regulations requiring them to cut back on greenhouse-gas emissions by using cleaner-burning—but more expensive—fuels, Drewry said.
As a result, China, the largest region in the index, crashed 45 points in a single month – the largest ever monthly fall. The drop to 91 points in February 2020 was a decline of 32.9% on a monthly basis and 16.4% annually. By comparison, North America saw a monthly drop of 10.9%, contracting the index to 123 points in February 2020, but the annual decline was only 2%.
Europe was less impacted that month, but Drewry expects a more intense virus-related impact to rock the region when March statistics are released. For February, Europe’sthroughput index was down 2.7% over the previous month and reached 116.5 in February 2020, although the annual fall was much lower at 1.4%. "The first wave Chinese supply-side impact [is] expected to be most evident in the March figures,” Drewry said. “We expect the European downturn to accelerate in the next few months with the spread of the virus into Europe supressing demand.”