In its latest report, Allianz reports that the shipping industry has shown great resilience through the pandemic but the crew change crisis, volatile trade volumes and constraints on capacity continue to have significant implications.
ccording to the report, after sharp falls during the early part of the pandemic, global trade volumes have since rebounded. However, volatility in demand, constraints on capacity and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 are causing major congestion at ports and disruption to supply chains.
However, despite the devastating economic impact of Covid-19, the effect on maritime trade has been less than first feared. According to Clarksons Research, global seaborne trade volumes declined only by an estimated 3.6% in 2020, and are on course to surpass 2019 levels this year.
The roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines is expected to “supercharge” global growth in 2021, said Euler Hermes at the end of 2020. Vaccines could push forward the global trade recovery by one year, with trade in goods already returning to pre-crisis value levels at end-2020, it said at the time
While the cruise industry and the car carrier segment have been worst affected by the pandemic, the industry’s three largest markets – tankers, bulkers and containers – have been quick to recover. The container market has staged a remarkable recovery, as increased demand and restricted supply resulted in a surge in freight rates. By early 2021, freight rates from China to South America had jumped 443% and by 63% on the route between Asia and North America’s eastern coast, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Coronavirus has shown that unpredictable events are just that. Trade volumes did not fall off a cliff as expected and now we see a strong recovery in several parts of the industry. The pandemic is also testament to the reliance of the shipping industry. Shipping companies learned the lessons of the global financial crisis, and as a result, are in a good position this time around
comments Justus Heinrich, Global Product Leader Marine Hull at AGCS
Data from the Institute of Shipping showed global container throughput in the first months of 2021 exceeded pre-pandemic levels, increasing by 6.4% in January 2021 compared to January 2020. Changes in consumption and shopping patterns triggered by the pandemic, combined with an easing of lockdowns and government stimulus packages, has led to increased demand for manufactured consumer goods, typically moved in shipping containers.
Moreover, the dry bulk market has benefited from the recovery of commodity prices. Demand for agricultural materials, coal, iron ore and other metals has caused commodity prices to rise sharply, helping drive up transportation costs by more than 50%. The average daily earnings of dry bulk carriers saw a more than threefold increase in the first three months of 2021 compared to the start of 2020, its highest value in 10 years.
Nevertheless, the recovery is volatile and dependent on the success of vaccinations and the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Despite a recovery in the price of oil, seaborne oil shipments in 2020 ended the year lower – crude oil trade down 8% and oil product trade down 12% – while tanker revenues per day fell from a peak in April 2020 to their lowest level in over 20 years in January 2021.
Even the container market has had its ups and downs. Surges in demand combined with Covid19-related delays at ports and shipping capacity management problems led to congestion at peak times. Having retrenched at the start of the pandemic, carriers, ports and shippers were all taken by surprise by the stronger than expected demand in the second half of 2020, which led to a shortage of empty containers in Asia.
The current supply chain disarray in the container trade highlights the need for effective backhaul of empty containers. As a result of trade imbalances shipping lines are faced with significant volumes of empty containers in the US and North Europe that need to be returned to Asian ports. When callings are canceled due to congestion this exasperates the shortage of available teus to load out bound cargoes
says Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS.
Other factors are likely to affect shipping capacity in the months ahead. Namely, in the dry bulk market, few ships were ordered in 2020 while the scrapping rate was twice as high as in 2019. Orders for new container ships picked up in the last quarter of 2020, following several years of deferred orders, although there is a lag of two to three years between the placement of vessel orders and delivery.
There are also risks associated with volatile trade volumes, says Captain Rahul Khanna, Global Head of Marine Risk Consulting at AGCS:
Unpredictable, sudden sharp downturns and surges in demand are difficult to manage at the best of times, and can lead to capacity issues and supply chain disruption. In the early stage of Covid-19, many ships were taken out of service – either scrapped or in layup – and this has led to some supply constraints
Finally, the surge in demand for consumer goods has also been cited as a potential contributing factor in the recent rise in incidents of containers lost at sea. Stacking of containers on vessels is reported to be at very high levels in order to service this demand with concerns growing about whether containers are being safely secured on board.