Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Breakbulk and general cargo is slumping at European ports. Traffic is down 17 percent at the Port of London, led by declines in forest products, building materials and steel. General cargo fell nearly 25 percent at Le Havre in January and 28 percent at Marseilles in the opening months of the year.
Antwerp's breakbulk and conventional cargo traffic plunged 30.7 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to just under 3 million metric tons, led by sharply lower imports of steel, forest products and granite. The decline, which outpaced a 16.3 percent drop in container traffic, was a major blow to a port that prides itself as Europe's unrivaled breakbulk hub. And general cargo at Rotterdam fell 25 percent to 1.4 million metric tons in the first quarter.
Ports plan breakbulk investments
However, the downturn isn't likely to divert Europe's top three container ports, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, from their plans to boost breakbulk activities to compensate for sliding box traffic. They also fear overcapacity in the next decade as massive container projects come on stream in the Le Havre-Hamburg range.
Antwerp is setting the pace to maintain its lead as Europe's leading breakbulk port and one of the world's top general cargo hubs. Last year, it set up a Breakbulk Project Group focused on the BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — that at the time were rapidly growing economies and major drivers of breakbulk traffic. Antwerp argues that although breakbulk accounts for only 11 percent of its total traffic it is just as important as containers.
”It shouldn't be forgotten that handling breakbulk has a much greater impact on employment and added value in and around the port,” said Walter van Mulders, the port's business development manager and a member of the Breakbulk Project Group. “A good 40 percent of jobs worked in the port are concerned with handling breakbulk. That puts the 11 percent in an entirely different light.”
Charter rates fall
The softening breakbulk market also is reflected in the slide in charter rates for multipurpose ships. Daily rates for a 17,000-deadweight-ton geared vessel on a one-year time-charter fell to $7,000 in April from $9,000 in December and averaged $17,792 in 2008, according to London ship broker Clarkson. A 9,000-deadweight-ton ship was earning $6,000 a day, down from $7,500 in December and a 2008 average of $10,394.
The heavy lift and project cargo market faces tougher times thanks to a collapse in oil prices from a peak of $147 a barrel in July 2008 to around $50, resulting in the cancellation and postponement of major energy projects — the mainstay of ships transporting machinery, equipment and components that can't be stuffed into containers. The economic slowdown in China and India also has reduced project cargo, steel and scrap metal shipments.