All categories of goods saw their traffic in Rotterdam decline in the first six months of 2020, causing overall volumes to fall by 9.1%. Containerised goods have been resilient to the health crisis.
The port of Rotterdam suffered a sharp drop in activity during the first six months of the year, down 9.1%, for 218.95 million tonnes handled. For this first year of Covid-19, all freight segments were affected by the crisis. The decline at Europe's largest port was more severe than at its neighbour Antwerp. Its competitor in the North Row saw its decline limited to 4.5% with a slight increase in containers of 0.4%.
Sharp decline in empty containers
In Rotterdam, too, this activity is the one that has fared best. Containerized traffic decreased by 3.3 %, i.e. by 2.5 Mt to end the semester at 74.7 million tonnes. The port points out that shipowners cancelled almost 20 % of the calls in May and June but that "nevertheless, the fall in flows was limited by the increase in the size of the ships calling at Rotterdam". He adds that the number of empty boxes has fallen considerably compared to the same period last year as container imports from Asia have fallen while exports have increased.
This explains the gap between tonnage and the number of containers. Container tonnage declined by 7 per cent for 7 million registered TEUs compared with 7.53 in the first six months of 2019.
Other general cargo decreased by 12% for ro-ro (10.8 Mt) and 12% for conventional (2.9 Mt). As with other traffic, the decline was concentrated at the beginning of the second quarter, when containment measures became widespread in Western Europe, then traffic started to increase again at the end of the period.
The steel industry slowed down
Dry bulk, which accounts for almost 15% of the port's volumes, plunged 19.2% to 30.78 Mt. The largest decreases were in iron ore and scrap metal (-22%, 11.17 Mt) and coal (-34%, 8.26 Mt).
They coincided with the sharp drop in activity in the steel industries, which in turn responded to that of all steel-consuming sectors, particularly the automotive industry.
In addition, according to the port authority, low gas prices and a mild climate justified a decline in interest in coal in power generation. At the same time, the traffic of biomass destined for power stations recorded a doubling (+109%) of 0.81 Mt. Like the other European cereal ports, Rotterdam saw an increase in agricultural bulk volumes (+2.8 %, to 4.99 Mt).
"No deal" and second wave?
Liquid bulk, which constitutes the largest share of the Dutch port's traffic (46%), saw its volume decrease by 9.5%. It fell below 100 Mt from January to the end of June (99.8 Mt), losing 10 Mt in one year.
The flow of refined petroleum products fell by 22 % (29.62 Mt), mainly due to fuel oil traffic as a result of the drop in road and air traffic. Those of crude oil fell by only 4 % (50.1 Mt) while those of LNG increased by 2.6 % (3.9 Mt). Other bulk liquids remained constant at 16.1 Mt.
Like the rest of the economic world, the Port Authority of Rotterdam reserves its forecasts for the possibility of a "second wave" of Covid-19. For it, traffic in the second half of the year should not deteriorate further, however, but 2020 should remain "significantly" lower than 2019. The conclusion or a post-Brexit agreement in the coming months is another major source of uncertainty for the Dutch port.
Franck André LA