Pictured: a container ship at berth being loaded by cranes. Photo: Tom Fisk / Pexels
Chinese port throughput volumes (all cargoes) for the first half of 2019 are up 7.3 percent compared to the first half of last year, according to the latest official Chinese data. First half 2019 foreign cargo volumes through China rose 2.5 percent compared to the prior corresponding period. And box throughput rose 5.1 percent.
Nationally, China recorded just under 127 million twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEU) in the first half of 2019, according to China’s Ministry of Transport. That national figure includes China’s extensive inland waterways trade.
Box throughput throughout the year was, nationally, fairly steady, with month-to-month figures mostly around the 22 million TEU mark. The exception was February, which saw quite a dip to 16.6 million TEU.
However, that dip is accounted for by the occurrence of the annual Chinese New Year holiday period. China’s New Year is marked by family reunions, parties and feasting. It’s followed by about eight or so days of festivities. This year, the Chinese New Year’s holidays started in early February.
Nationally, China recorded 60.3 million TEU in the first quarter and 66.7 million in the second quarter. The difference between the two quarters is largely accounted for by the disruption to economic activities by February’s holiday period.
Box throughput via China’s seaports
Parsing the data to remove inland waterways port numbers so that we only look at sea-trading ports reveals that Chinese sea-ports handled just over 112.6 million TEU in the first half of 2019.
Chinese seaports handled about 53.8 million TEU in the first quarter and about 58.8 million TEU in the second quarter. Looking at the month-by-month data reveals that, again, the rise in volumes between the two quarters is due to the depression of trade activities caused by the advent of the Chinese holiday season in February. Chinese seaports handled between 19.0 million TEU and 19.9 million TEU a month with the exception of February, when numbers dropped to just under 15.0 million TEU.
Prime ports: China’s busiest box ports
Of the 42 ports for which the Ministry provides box throughput figures, the top six box ports in the first half of the year were: Shanghai (21.6 million TEU); Ningbo-Zhoushan (13.9 million TEU); Shenzhen (12.4 million); Guangzhou (10.9 million TEU); Qingdao (10.3 million TEU); and Tianjin, which is the gateway to the capital city Beijing, with 8.3 million TEU. These top six ports account for 68.77 percent of the box throughput in China.
To illustrate just what a massive flow of cargo these numbers represent, consider the U.S. ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. According to FreightWaves reporter Greg Miller, there is a demarcation line in U.S. logistics decision-making running north-to-south, from the Ohio River Valley down to Nashville, Tennessee. When the final destination is to the west of that imaginary line, Asian freight is usually shipped via Los Angeles/Long Beach (or via the northwest U.S. coast ports). Immediately adjacent to each other, it’s fair to say those two southern California ports are a primary entry point for cargo across much of the U.S.
Long Beach had a total throughput (imports, exports and empties) of just under 8.1 million TEU in 2018. Los Angeles meanwhile, had a total throughput of 9.5 million TEU in 2018. So the two ports together had a total throughput in 2018 of about 17.6 million TEU.
By way of comparison, Shanghai alone has already handled nearly four million more TEU than the combined volumes of Los Angeles and Long Beach last year.
And we’re only half way through 2019.
China’s second-tier box ports
After Tianjin, the box volume through China’s ports undergoes a fair step-down. But these ports still handle a huge volume of cargo. Xiamen Port handled 5.36 million TEU in the first half of the year; Dalian handled 4.6 million TEU; while Yingkou, Lianyungang and Rizhao together handled just over 7.3 million TEU. These five ports handled about 15.13 percent of China’s total box throughput in the first half.
So the top 10 of China’s 42 sea ports together account for about 92.4 million TEU, which is about 82 percent of China’s containerized throughput.
China’s lesser box ports
The next eight ports had a total first half throughput of 10.7 million TEU, averaging just under 1.4 million TEU each. Immediately after that, the following five ports together had a total throughput in the first half of 3.6 million TEU. They had all handled above 500,000 TEU in the first half.
These figures indicate that China’s top 24 ports by containerized volume will likely all be ‘millionaire’ ports (i.e. they will have all handled at least one million TEU each).
By way of comparison, the country within which this reporter is located, Australia, generally handles about eight million TEU per year. If Australia was a port in China, its entire containerized throughput for the year would roughly put it about number nine on the list!
Australia would be just behind the port at Dalian, which handled 4.35 million TEU in the first half of this year.
Sources have told FreightWaves that it is worth looking at the Ministry’s inland waterway data. They indicate that many sea-going vessels can and do travel a considerable distance into the interior of China to discharge and load containers. The country has about 68,350 miles of navigable waterways. The Yellow, Yangtze and Pearl rivers particularly carry large volumes of freight.
Before looking at the enormous volume of freight moving on China’s rivers, it should be remembered that it is mostly not sea-going cargo. Much of it will be internal cargo only. It’s also therefore possible that domestic freight box could be counted multiple times, especially if it is trans-shipped internally by river. For instance, it would be counted once at the port of loading, twice at a trans-shipment river port (once in and once out) and again at a river port of discharge.
In the first half of 2019, China’s inland river port throughput was 14.4 million TEU. The first quarter saw 45 percent of that volume, 6.5 million TEU, shipped by river. The other 55 percent, 7.9 million TEU, was shipped by river in the second quarter.
On a month-by-month basis, China’s waterways ship near 2.4 million TEU a month with the exception of February, which this year saw just under 1.7 million TEU shipped.
China’s massive flow of river cargo can be seen even more clearly if we jump from looking at inland waterway cargo flows by the number of TEU to the freight volume as counted by weight.
In the first half of the year, China shipped 2,218 million metric tonnes (i.e. 2.22 billion metric tonnes) of cargo along its inland waterways. A metric tonne is equivalent to 2,204.6 U.S. pounds. About 19.6 percent of that cargo flow, which is 435.7 million metric tonnes, is “foreign” cargo.
Correction and update August 9, 2019: Unfortunately, owing to an error in translating and re-formatting this data set from the original Mandarin source to English, and also from a JPEG into a usable spreadsheet, the entry for the port at Shanghai was inadvertently omitted. The story has been re-issued today with the inclusion of that port’s numbers. All the percentages and rankings have been appropriately re-calculated. We apologize for the inconvenience caused. Sorry.
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