The Port of Virginia said today that cargo volume in May plummeted 22.7% to its biggest year-over-year drop since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the trend could continue throughout August as containerships persist in canceling trips.
The amount of cargo moving across the port’s terminals in May declined by more than 59,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) when compared with the same month in 2019, slumping from 146,018 to 112,913.
Viewed through a longer lens, the port has now seen a 13.0% decline for its calendar year to date (from January through May) and a 6.4% drop for its fiscal year to date (from July through May). However, the full effect of the virus remains to be seen, since most of the impact in those statistics comes from a limited number of months. The World Health Organization (WHO) first declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11, followed by lockdown orders on March 20 in California and March 30 in Virginia, among others.
“It is a significant loss in volume that is being felt throughout the organization and the situation is similar across the entire maritime industry,” John Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said in a release. “We are forecasting that this trend will continue through the end of summer because our customers are telling us that the blank sailings will continue into early September. The blank sailings were supposed to subside in early August, but the ocean carriers are telling us the volume just isn’t there yet. Our economy is reawakening and we are optimistic about the future, but the recovery is going to take time and patience.”
While the flow of physical cargo at the facility has slowed significantly, the port is still investing in initiatives such as infrastructure improvement projects and on civil rights support for minority citizens and port employees.
The infrastructure work includes progress on the expansion of Norfolk International Terminals’ (NIT’s) south-side container stack yard, the 55-foot channel project, and Orsted’s offshore-wind project at Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT), the port said. Specifically, the final group of automated stacking cranes arrived in May, as NIT nears completion of its expansion this Fall. The site’s channel dredging project is running ahead of schedule, and PMT is preparing for the arrival of Orsted in late 2020.
According to the port, it is also supporting the effort “to confront the realities of the systemic racist practices and injustice that have been part of the daily lives of Black Americans.” That issue was brought to the nation’s discussion some three weeks ago, following the death of George Floyd, the black man who was held in an extended choke-hold by Minneapolis police officers. To highlight that event, dock workers at several ports held work stoppages last week for nearly nine minutes, matching the time that Floyd had been pinned to the ground.
The Port of Virginia says it also participated in that demonstration by joining union employees and industry peers in support of an hour of reflection on Floyd’s death. “This effort is as important as anything we are doing right now,” Reinhart said in a release. “We must show one another and our communities that we are steadfast in confronting the realities of our system and we are committed to our values and to each other. We stand in solidarity with the Black community in the fight against a centuries- old pattern of violence and suppression. There is a significant amount of work that lies ahead, but we cannot be deterred by that. Open, honest, and compassionate dialogue with each other and the willingness to listen and learn are the beginnings of positive change.”
We, the colleagues of The Port of Virginia, remain committed to our values and to each other, and we stand together in solidarity with the Black community in the fight against a centuries-old pattern of violence and suppression. #BlackLivesMatter #WeStandTogether pic.twitter.com/G3DP59r6Xw— The Port of Virginia (@PortofVirginia) June 4, 2020