The volume of shipping and port traffic on the majority of the principal sectors grew during the first quarter of 2011 according to the latest figures released today by from the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO).
The first quarter data shows moderate trade volume growth in four of the five principal freight segments;
- Total lift-on/ lift-off (lo/lo) trades volumes grew by 3%
- Roll-on/Roll-off export traffic was also up 2% per cent on an all island basis
- Dry bulk volumes through ROI ports increased by 21%
- Breakbulk volumes were also up 25%
- The tanker/liquid market was the only sector to record a decline, down by -12% compared to the same period last year.
Roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) traffic on an all-Island basis continued to make a steady recovery increasing, by 2%, with 390,334 ro/ro units being shipped in the 1st quarter.
The ro/ro segment is largely weighted towards services to and from the UK which remains our largest trading partner. Exports units in this sector were up 3% while imports declined by -1%.
In January DFDS Seaways, who had a 20% market share in this sector, announced it was exiting the ROI market. Its decision to terminate its operations in Ireland instantly removed a large amount of capacity on key shipping corridors. However other operators responded to this decision and have increased their capacity and frequency which has eased potential peak supply pressure on some routes. The lo/lo sector is the other key unitized segment which is principally linked to long haul overseas markets such as the USA, China and India. Lo/Lo volumes increased by 3% to 187,139 teu which is the first aggregate volume rise in almost 3 years, Exports which make up about 42% of total volume shipped, increased by 9%, the 4th consecutive quarter on quarter growth in export volumes in this sector.
Container imports on the other hand continued to decline but at a much slower rate than previous years, down by -2%. The steep change in domestic demand for imports coupled with underlying weaker consumer sentiment has continued to provide significant operational challenges for the major shipping lines as they are forced to import empty equipment/containers to service export volumes. Imports of empty containers rose by 45% during the first quarter compared to the same period last year. We estimate that 33% of available shipping capacity has been removed from the market over the last 36 months with shipping lines entering more vessel sharing arrangements on key corridors.
Dry bulk volumes, of which 80% are made up of imports such as, ore, coal, grain and fertilizers, increased by 19% during the 1st quarter of 2011. The latest data suggests that wider demand conditions for agri-products continued to perform well over this period. Breakbulk shipments of construction related materials such as timber and steel seen a second consecutive quarter of volume growth up 21%, however inventory volumes, while recovering, still remain at historically low levels. Liquid bulk volumes and importation of tanker based petroleum products, such as oil, declined by 12%.
The first quarter traffic volumes have performed better than expected by many analysts and shipbrokers, however most shipping lines remain cautious about the outlook for continued short term volume growth over the remainder of the year. A key factor impacting on the sector has been the sharp increase in oil/bunker prices which have increased by more than 134%over the past 24 months. Operators find it difficult to pass these charges directly back to the shippers and exporters, however their ability to continue absorb these costs in a highly competitive market are likely to be severely tested in the short term.