The rules of social distancing and limitations to international travel put in place by several countries to contain the spread of COVID-19 have primarily impacted people rather than goods: the sectors of the sailing and shipping world that were hit the hardest by the worldwide crisis were passenger and cruise ships, which tend to create larger gatherings and therefore present a more direct threat to public health.
However, cargo shipping did not go unaffected: COVID-19 is a major blow to the global economy and job market that was bound to have a profound effect on the movement of goods on an international scale. With some of the greatest economic powers in the world being so deeply impacted, above all China, where the pandemic was first reported, the consequences on mass transportation of goods were inevitable.
The travel bans and other precautionary measures adopted by local governments have led cargo ships to suffer from an upswing in blank voyages, resulting in a drastic reduction of sea traffic and a temporary increase of fares due to the numerous canceled sailings and the subsequent decrease in shipping capacity.
Here are some hard data about the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the shipping sector at a global, European and national level.
During the first 29 weeks of 2019, EU ports recorded 481,682 ship calls; by comparison, there were 401,097 recorded ship calls in the same timeframe in 2020, for an overall decrease of 16.7%.
A breakdown of these statistics by country further reveals that the nations most affected by the decline in ship calls induced by COVID-19 were Croatia, France, Iceland, Portugal and Spain. With a 28% decrease, Italy – at one time one of the countries most affected by the virus in proportion to its inhabitants – stands slightly above the European average of 23%.
Early estimates for the year as a whole speak of a projected 20% decline in Italian port traffic, which translates to 2 million TEU worth of goods, or 80-90 million tons.
On a global scale, the reduction in container trade so far has been in the order of magnitude of 10.3% fewer TEU, a number that becomes all the more shocking when one takes into account that it surpasses even the impact of the great 2008 financial crisis. According to the Danish research and analysis firm SeaIntelligence Consulting, the overall impact of COVID-19 on container transport routes will be an estimated 17 million TEU, while the blow suffered by port terminals will clock in at about 80 million TEU worth of loaded and unloaded goods.
Even now that some countries appear to have moved past the peak of new cases of COVID-19 and the security measures are being eased, it is undeniable that we are experiencing difficult, uncertain times. Some are hopeful for a speedy recovery, others live in fear of a second wave of contagion, but whether your outlook on the pandemic is optimistic or pessimistic, numbers speak louder than words: a massive phenomenon such as a worldwide pandemic has caught ports all over the world unprepared and all the major players on the global economic chessboard are feeling the consequences.
In these hard times, we turn to the wisdom of the famed Latin author Ennius, whose simple but powerful definition of friendship resonates with us to this day: “When Fortune’s fickle the faithful friend is found”. In other words, it is in difficult circumstances that one can discern who is truly worth their trust, and this global crisis is no exception.
If you are in need of moving goods in this uncertain landscape of last-minute cancellations and increased bureaucratic complications, having a partner by your side that brings to the table 40+ years of experience in the shipping business and has established a solid reputation is a step in the right direction.
Global Shipping’s expert sea freight team guarantees the highest standards of documentation and safety for your cargo and will be with you every step of the way, creating a bond of mutual trust and support that may last long after the COVID-19 crisis has become nothing but a page in our history books.