BPA explores how UK ports are faring during the COVID-19 outbreak

Dover Port

The British Ports Association (BPA) has explored how ports are keeping the UK supplied during the lockdown and difficult circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the BPA, provided an update on how the industry is performing and what support it needs from the government to keep the nation supplied throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ballantyne acknowledged that as “key workers” those at ports continue to need some assistance from policy makers.

As well as access to financial support ports need PPE and testing capabilities to keep their workforces resilient.

Global trade and global maritime traffic flows are inextricably linked, Ballantyne noted, and UK ports perform a critical role for importers, exporters and intra-UK supply chains, so government must ensure there are measures in place to ensure ports can continue to play a key role in facilitating UK supply chains, and keeping supermarket shelves stocked, but also in the UK’s economic recovery from this crisis.

Impact on containers

After the initial deep-sea container traffic slowdown in February and March saw a reduction in throughputs of between 25% – 30% in early March following the effective shutdown in Chinese manufacturing and exporting.

However, with the Chinese economy fully active again there appears to be an abundance of traffic being shipped from Asia to Europe which will start to arrive in the coming weeks.

There are now concerns in the European container sector that with the shutdown of UK and neighbouring economies and the dramatic drop off in demand for non-essential products, much of this cargo could be held up.

Some operators are concerned about increasing box dwell times and congestion with containers potentially needed to be stored at ports, warehouse, logistics parks until the lockdown finishes.

Despite some suggestions from short-sea operators who have said they have plenty of capacity, it would appear as though diverted container traffic and short sea shipping solutions either from container or Ro-Ro options are not likely or feasible.]

Toilet roll troubles

Finally, one cargo that has grown substantially is finished toilet rolls and some ports have reported a 400% increase in this cargo arriving in short-sea container form the Netherlands.

Also, refrigerated units carrying products such as bananas have increased at a healthy level although across the globe the reefer containers themselves are somewhat in short supply as many are being used for storage.

The BPA represents over 100 members, who own and operate around 400 terminals and facilities, accounting for 86% of port tonnages and 85% of all vessel calls.

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