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FreightWaves Flashback: World ports reach 201 million TEUs

2000: Drewry Shipping reports more volumes, greater penetration of containerized shipping

Image: Jim Allen (FreightWaves)

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The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

In this edition, from the July 2000 issue of American Shipper (virtual page 94), FreightWaves Flashback looks back 20 years ago at world container port throughput crossing the 200 million-TEU threshold. 

World container port throughput increased 7.8% last year to about 201 million TEUs — the first time volume exceeded 200 million TEUs — according to a report by the U.K.-based Drewry Shipping Consultants.

All regions saw at least a 5% increase in estimated port container traffic, except Eastern Europe, which saw an 8% loss (see table).

Source: Drewry Container Market Quarterly.

Hong Kong was the leading Asian container port in 1999, handling 16.1 million TEUs, the report said. Rotterdam was the largest European port, moving 6.4 million TEUs. Long Beach led the North American region, with 4.4 million TEUs.

Drewry said the practically worldwide increase was partly due to the continued trend toward containerized general cargo traffic. Containerized cargo represented 53.7% of the 1 billion-metric-ton annual world general cargo trade in 1999, compared to 52.0% in 1998, the report said.

“The container lines successfully captured some further general and even neobulks under the pressure to reduce equipment imbalances,” Drewry said.

The consultant predicts world port container volume will increase 7% this year and 8% in 2001. This will be partly driven by further penetration of containerized shipping in the general cargo market.

However, container shipping is gradually moving toward a “ceiling” where it will no longer increase the portion of general cargo that can be containerized, said Mark Page, director of Drewry Shipping Consultants. “The upper percentage, for containers, is probably about 65%.”

In the long term, reaching the ceiling in containerization may slow down the strong container market, Drewry said.

The findings form part of a new publication, Drewry Container Market Quarterly, that also assesses developments in shipping supply and demand, vessel orders, vessel charter rates and carrier profitability.

Figures for world port activity include transshipment moves, for which a container shipment is counted as several loading and discharge handling moves. They also include box moves for empty containers.

Drewry said that recovery in the trades to Asia reduced the container imbalance problems ocean carriers have faced.

The proportion of empty containers handled by ports worldwide fell to 20.5% from 21.5%, Drewry said.

“This is still well above the levels which were becoming commonplace prior to the Asian crisis,” Drewry said.

The 41 million-TEU empty container moves handled by ports cost carriers an estimated $12.8 billion in terminal and related costs last year, the report said.

Drewry estimates that the 201 million-TEU port container moves are equivalent to 61 million loaded TEUs carried.

Estimated global container traffic increased 8% last year, from 56 million TEUs in 1998.

Container shipping lines’ revenues last year rose 2.5% to about $79 billion, the report said.

Drewry reported certain freight rate increases last year, notably in the eastbound Pacific trade, but it said that carriers’ average rates fell in 1999 overall.

Carriers moved 24% more containers in 1999 than in 1996, but their combined revenues rose only 2%, Drewry said.

“It is doubtful that many operators would have been able to deliver the kind of unit cost savings needed to absorb the drop in average revenue,” Drewry said.

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FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. If there are topics that you think would be of interest, please send them to [email protected]

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