Covid-19 Impact: AN EMSA PERSPECTIVE
by Coca H. Strobar
The global outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a major impact on global shipping, growing to unprecedented levels in Europe in March, with severe impact on health, people and economy. Lockdowns or restricted movement were imposed to prevent escalation while ensuring operations for security of supply.
The Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) was among the first of respected organizations to issue a major commentary of the effect on shipping and the global economy, offering projections for the immediate future.
The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) of the European Union issued July 10, 2020 a report, Covid-19 –impact on shipping, claiming it “has the necessary data and tools to analyse the impact of the pandemic on certain shipping activities.”
This is by “analysing vessel traffic data and providing reliable figures to assist in the definition of the recovery policies and specific measures.”
However, the Report clarifies it is not an economic impact analysis since trade volume is not available in the EMSA system.
The Report focuses on EU ports and EU flagged ships, routes from Europe to China and the US.
The term “Member States” refers to EU Member States, EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway) and the United Kingdom (which must still report to the end of 2020 as the transition period of the Brexit).
- Six areas were indexed and analysed:
- Ship calls at EU ports
- Ships flying the flags of EU Member States
- EU – China and EU – US Traffic
- Impact on cruise ships and other passenger ships
- Impact on vessel movement patterns
- Congestion at anchorages in EU waters
Data are mainly from the Union Maritime Information and Exchange System (SafeSeaNet), combined with LRIT and MARINFO; thus, based on solid vessel movements statistics showing the port call trends without interpreting the data.
Ships calls at EU ports declined by 17.1% in the first 27 weeks of 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year. The number of ships calls in week 27 only (29 June – 05 July) declined by 16% compared to the same week in 2019.
The most significantly affected sectors are the Cruises, Passenger ships, RoRo/Passenger and Vehicle carriers. Chemical Tankers ship calls increased; Bulk carriers, Containerships, General cargo and Oil tankers had only small decrease (up to 10%).
The most affected countries are Croatia, France, Iceland, Portugal and Spain. The declines in number of ship calls between 2019 and 2020 is attributed to the Cruise and Passenger coastal ships traffic which has been heavily affected by the crisis.
Ship traffic from Europe to China and the US has declined: decrease of 44.3% from Europe to China, China to Europe by 20.6%; Europe to the US by 23.4%, US to Europe by 36.1%.
Ships carrying passengers (Cruises, Passenger ships and RoRo/Passenger) were mostly affected by COVID-19. EMSA started already in March with the analysis of cruise vessels, showed growing number of cruise ships bound to EU ports and staying at ports or anchorages. Persons on Board (PoB) on cruise ships began to decrease gradually as major cruise lines suspended departures in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak grew.
Ports have faced an unprecedented number of vessels at anchor and vessels queue up waiting to unload cargo. Since the beginning of 2020, there is a continuous increase of ships “at anchor.”
The EMSA report demonstrated that the cruises sector and the transport of passengers are the sectors most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 but trade didn’t stop. Despite of the difficulties, commercial ship operations, ports and other maritime transport sectors continued to operate ensuring the movement of goods and proving the strategic importance of maritime.
China and US traffic
During March, April and May 2020, ship traffic from Europe to China and the US reduced in comparison to the same periods in 2019. However, it is important to first compare the overall calls made up until week 27 (29 Jun - 05 of July 2020) with the figures for the same period in 2019, to see the broader picture.
Traffic from China to Europe is reduced by 20.6%, while from Europe to China, there is a more significant decrease of 44.3%.
Cruise and passenger ships.
Cruise ships, passenger/ro-ro ferries and other types of passenger ships are the 3 ship types mostly affected by COVID-19. Every major cruise line in the world suspended departures in mid-March. It is likely that many lines will remain completely shut down through the end of summer or even longer.
Some very small cruise vessels (river ships, and coastal cruisers) are starting to resume operations within Europe (with trips mostly aimed at local vacationers).
However, most major lines have cancelled all sailings through at least early August 2020 (e.g. MSC Cruises) or even further (Celebrity Cruises, Captain Cook Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean – September, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line – October, P&O Cruises – 16 October, Coral Expeditions – November, Holland America Line – end of 2020).
Cruise ship operators almost lost their businesses. PoB began to decrease gradually from the beginning of March. Currently, the numbers remain at a very low level and correspond to crew members on board these ships.
In the last weeks a continuous increase in the number of PoB on board of Passenger ships and Ro-Ro/ Passenger ships can be observed.
There are no changes to the number of PoB for cargo ships (bulk carriers, oil tankers, container ships, etc.), as safe manning needs to be ensured.
Traffic Density Maps (TDM) is a simple and effective way to show vessel movement patterns and are produced by compiling ship’s positioning data and can highlight congested areas. The main conclusion is that traffic in and around EU waters was not heavily affected apart from passengers’ ships.
Congestion on EU waters.
There is an unprecedented number of vessels at anchor, based on AIS reports every 6 minutes for each vessel under the coverage of AIS coastal station with navigational status “at anchor.”