The total throughput at the Port of Antwerp fell by 4.9% in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2019 although conditions are showing early signs that volumes are recovering after being hit by the coronavirus.
In a statement, the port said after a strong first quarter, the port experienced a decline in the transhipment of all flows of goods, with the exception of the container sector.
Container traffic status quo
The Port of Antwerp saw container traffic increased in the first quarter of the year but felt the effects of cancelled sailings from April onwards. Nevertheless, for the period January-June 2020, container traffic recorded a slight increase of +0.4% in TEUs compared to the same period last year (with April and May 2019 as absolute record months).
It noted that the number of calls made by vessels decreased, but this was compensated by a higher average volume per vessel and by additional calls on top of the normal sailing schedules.
The notable climbers in this special period were the transhipment of pharmaceutical products, e-commerce and health foods.
Slight recovery in breakbulk sector in June
"Since mid-2019, global trade issues continue to adversely affect goods flows in the conventional breakbulk sector. This has culminated in an overall 29% decrease for the period January-June compared to 2019, with inbound and outbound flows being affected to the same extent," the Port of Antwerp said in a release.
"The throughput of iron and steel, the most important freight group within this sector, experienced its best month of 2020 in June but a total decrease of 33.1% for the first six months of this year," it added.
Meanwhile, it added that the automotive sector was already struggling in 2019 with the introduction of stricter rules on passenger car emissions in Europe and this trend continued in 2020.
From March onwards, the port noted that this situation was compounded by the coronavirus crisis: fewer exports of new European cars, less supply of new Asian cars and downtime in the second-hand market due to travel restrictions.
Bulk cargo declined due to reduced demand
The Port of Antwerp noted that while the transhipment of coal continued to grow in the first quarter, it came to a standstill in the second quarter and resulted in a 13.1% drop in dry bulk transhipment in January-June 2020 compared to the same period last year.
"Thanks to the gradual lifting of the coronavirus measures and the recovery of the oil price, fuel throughput increased in May and June. Moreover, chemicals decreased by 8.9% compared to the first six months of 2019, mainly due to reduced demand from the automotive sector," it said.
Over the past six months, 6,797 seagoing vessels called at Antwerp, representing a decrease of 5.6% compared to the same period in 2019. The gross tonnage of these vessels fell by 7.9% to 193 million.
Impact coronavirus and prospects
For the third quarter, while the Port of Antwerp is still expecting blank sailings, it is also seeing the first signs of recovery and an upturn in the European economy.
"The Port of Antwerp is a world port that follows the pace of the European and world economy. The impact of the shutdown of the global supply chain due to the coronavirus crisis has been felt from the second quarter onwards and will affect the total throughput of goods this year," said Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO at the Port of Antwerp.
He added that the Port of Antwerp is holding up well in the Hamburg-Le Havre range because it is active in many sectors, and is not dependent on a single continent.
Annick De Ridder, Port Alderman, noted that much of the recovery in volumes will "depend on how quickly industry is able to start up again and consumer confidence returns."