Ports survey shows uptick in delays, storage levels

16th November 2020 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The newest International Association of Ports and Harbors’ World Ports Sustainability Programme (IAPH-WPSP) Covid-19 Task Force report shows that there is an uptick in hinterland delays, as well as port storage utilisation levels for medicines, foodstuffs and consumer goods.

The survey also indicates a drop in liquid-bulk trading.

The report, compiled by professors Theo Notteboom and Thanos Pallis, is based on the replies of 73 world ports, including Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe, in week 45 of the year.

Probably the most significant result of the IAPH-WPSP report is the uptick in delays on the intermodal connections between ports and the hinterlands, including cross-border cargo traffic. 

While in October none of the ports were reporting delays (6 hours to 24 hours), or heavy delays (more than 24 hours) in cross-border road transportation, this figure bounced up to 16.3% in November, in week 45.

While this percentage is far below the figures of more than 40% in weeks 15 and 16, it shows that fewer ports are now experiencing normal cross-border trucking operations. 

The situation is also deteriorating for trucks arriving or leaving the port. In October 94% of ports reported normal activity compared with some 88% in weeks 29 and 36, 78% in week 21 and only 63% in week 15. 

In November, this figure is down to 86%.

Some 14.6% of ports face disruptions in rail services, up from the record low figure of 4.9% in October (week 41). 

“The reopening of markets and a current wave of restocking/stockpiling have resulted in a surge of containerised flows in recent weeks, with numerous ports in Europe and North America reporting record traffic volumes on the import side, while many key Asian ports are also seeing strong recovery of volumes compared to the first half of the year,” says Notteboom.

“This sudden surge in volumes on several of the big trade routes and mass container repositioning back to Asia is testing the capacity limits of ports/terminals and the inland transport systems, leading to disruptions in hinterland transport connectivity in some ports.”

The survey results for week 45 show two main developments in warehousing and distribution activities in ports.

First of all, more ports are reporting an increase in utilisation of warehousing and distribution facilities for foodstuffs and medical supplies. 

This figure went up from 17% in week 41 to 20% in week 45 for foodstuffs and medical supplies. The same percentage and percentage rise also applies for consumer goods.

Secondly, storage utilisation in the liquid-bulk market is becoming lower. 

In this market, 64% of respondents have seen no change in utilisation levels. 

However, more than 22% of ports are reporting underutilisation of liquid-bulk storage facilities in November – a more than doubling of the figure in week 29, which was the lowest figure since the start of the surveys recorded. 

The share of ports with increased utilisation levels in liquid-bulk storage facilities has decreased from between 16% and 18% in weeks 23 to 41, to 13.8% in week 45. 

The most likely driver behind this is that fuel consumption and storage are down owing to lower demand.

Pressure on Truck Availability
The availability of truck drivers sees the most significant change compared with October in terms of the availability of port workers. 

While availability remains good overall globally, the share of ports facing truck-driver shortages went up from 7.3% to 9.7% (compared with 21% in week 17). 

This is partly explained by the surge in import volumes in quite a few ports which requires more drivers for inland transport, particularly in North America and Europe. 

In addition, a large number of truck owner-operators impacted by the first wave have delayed delivery of new trucks to preserve cash, while other players have either been taken over or entered administration, exacerbating low availability. 

One silver lining is that cargo volume throughputs for containers, bulk and liquid bulk have firmed up in equal measure.

A majority of ports reported either stable or a rebound of volumes for all three markets compared with volumes for September and October last year.