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Published: 18 July 2009      

Ports report first half results

Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre have released their traffic figures for the first half of 2009

In the first half of 2009, 185 Mt of goods were handled in the port of Rotterdam, 13.4% down on the same period of 2008. Exports fell by 4.6% to 54 Mt, imports by 16.6% to Mt. Bulk cargo throughput was down by 12.4% to 128 Mt. Results for general cargo were 15.5% lower, at 57 Mt .

Only the handling of mineral oil products showed an increase, up by 17% or 5 Mt, to over 35 Mt. All other categories of goods were way down: agribulk (-19%), ores and scrap (-61%), coal (-14%), other dry bulk (-28%), crude oil (-4%), other liquid bulk (-20%), roll on/roll off (-14%), other general cargo (-27%) and containers (-15%). Expressed in figures, container throughput fell by 15% to 4.6M TEU.

Hans Smits, Port of Rotterdam Authority CEO: “We believe that the bottom of the cycle has been reached. In the second half of the year, I expect throughput to stabilise, bringing the shrinkage for the year as a whole to approximately -12%. In 2010, Rotterdam will then be able to benefit from the predicted, modest increase in world trade and contribute towards the recovery of growth in the Dutch economy.

"Despite the slump, our market share is actually increasing quite clearly. Investment appears to be paying off. That is why we are now benefiting from the strong movements in trade in crude oil and oil products. On the Maasvlakte, the container sector can push down costs through increases in scale and concentration. The Port Authority will therefore continue to invest in the current port area and Maasvlakte 2”.

In the container trades, the port says there were signs of recovery in throughput from February onwards, thanks to the rationalisation of services and concentration on Rotterdam. Partly on the back of this, feeder traffic is also increasing, mainly to the Baltic area.

Container throughput is expected to fall again in July/August, followed by a recovery in connection with the festive season. It is also likely that the cooperation between shipping lines will be extended further. This provides new opportunities for Rotterdam.

Ro-ro transport was 14% down, to almost 8 Mt. The economic decline in the United Kingdom, by far the most important ro-ro market, is particularly marked. Furthermore, the fall in the value of the pound is pushing down exports from the continent. The early outbreak of the crisis in the UK could be followed by an early recovery. In that case, throughput could rally slightly this year, to almost 17 Mt. The pessimistic scenario is 2 to 3 Mt lower.

The handling of other general cargo was way down, by 27% (-1 Mt). The massive fall in demand for steel, which accounts for about half of general cargo throughput, and metals is being particularly hard felt. Fruit handling is a little less sensitive to the economic situation, but is under structural pressure due to the ongoing process of containerisation.

The transshipment of paper/pulp is declining because less advertising mean thinner newspapers and magazines. Finally, says the port, project cargo is attractive to the stevedores, but adds little weight to the throughput figures.

During the first six months of this year the port of Antwerp handled just over 77 Mt of freight. This represents a drop of 19.9% compared with the same period last year, when the volume was more than 96 Mt. The worldwide economic crisis has naturally had a negative impact on the figures for the first two quarters of this year.

However, in percentage terms the figures are somewhat distorted by the comparison with the exceptionally strong performance in the first half of 2008, which in turn was partially due to the industrial dispute in Le Havre during the period April-July.

The degree of decline in freight volume is more or less in line with the expectations voiced by Port Authority CEO Eddy Bruyninckx earlier this year when presenting the figures for 2008 as a whole. “At that time we estimated that the volume would down by around 15%,” he says.

 “In fact we expected the decline in conventional/breakbulk to be smaller, but the volumes have stabilised in the past few months, with the amount of shipping freight remaining the same in the second quarter. We suspect that this trend will continue for the remainder of the year. At the moment there are not enough signs for an economic revival in the second half of 2009.”

The volume of bulk freight fell by 18.5% in the first half of 2009, to 27.1 Mt. This was mainly due to the decline in dry bulk, which was down by 43.6% to 7.9 Mt, with ore down by 61.5%, coal by 42.8% and fertilisers by 48.9%. The volume of liquid bulk, on the other hand, remained more or less stable at 19.2 Mt.

The container volume dropped 17.7% from more than 52 Mt last year to just under 43 Mt in the period January-June 2009. In unit tersm the volume was down by 18.5% to 3.6M TEU.

The volume of conventional/breakbulk was down by 35.5% to 5.4 Mt. The volumes of fruit, fertilisers and chemicals fell only slightly, but steel and forest products were down by 40%.

Ro-ro traffic declined by 33.1%, to 1.6 Mt. with car numbers down by 32.5% to 341,997 vehicles.

The number of ship calls was down by 17.6%, to 6906.

Le Havre reports just a 1.7% fall in overall traffic in the first semester, to 38.2 Mt. Liquid bulks rose by 1.4% compared to the first six months of 2008 to 23.9 Mt. Dry bulk traffic increased by 2.1% to 2.3 Mt, due to increases in sand, gravel and crushed stone volumes.

Containerised tonnage was 10.8 Mt compared to 11.9 Mt in the corresponding period in 2008, with units down by 8% to 1.1M TEU. Last year's figures were lower than they should have been due to containership calls diverted to Antwerp because of industrial action in Le Havre tied to disputes over the national port reform laws. Hence the underlying fall in container traffic at Le Havre this year is greater than it appears.

In all, around 3200 ship calls were recorded since the beginning of the year (+ 1%).

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