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One Hundred Ports 2019: Stable showing

Robust volume growth across China, backed by other strong regional performances, beefed up global throughput figures in 2018. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the elite box facilities

Volumes among the top 100 ports rose by an average of 4.8% last year, softening slightly on the previous year's 6% growth figure

BOX volumes at the world’s top 100 container ports reached 616.7m teu in 2018, representing an increase of 4.8% year on year.

Off the back of 6% growth in 2017, the uptick last year — while softening slightly — marked a period of much-needed stability for the container port sector, following several years of only moderate rises.

Last year’s return to form coincided with the comeback of strong growth in China, a country whose performance is linked intrinsically to the wider market.

If China wallows, the reverberations are felt globally. So it was most welcome that the trend of strong numbers out of China continued into 2018 to provide the foundations for another fruitful 12 months.

Away from China, growth across world regions was typically fragmented.

Strong performances came from the developing markets, as expected, with Southeast Asian as well as Central and South American ports faring especially well, which contributed handsomely to the overall growth total.

Volume growth in the Mediterranean was equally robust as demand for transhipment grew, while the end-of-year rush to beat tariffs on Chinese imports in the US ensured a healthy North American showing.

Indeed, the only regions not to report mid- to high-single-digit percentage growth were the Middle East and Northern Europe.

 

Top dog

It will come as no surprise that Shanghai held on to its accolade as the world’s largest container port in 2018, remaining top dog. The colossal port complex handled more than 42m teu, up 4.4%.

However, second-placed Singapore closed the gap after witnessing an 8.7% volume leap last year, as the transhipment hub benefited from full-year exposure to its alliances wins in 2017.

Despite narrowing its lead, Singapore will have to go some way before it can catch Shanghai, with volumes coming up more than 5m teu short — even if throughput growth at the latter is expected at a slower ebb in the coming years.

At the top of rankings, Ningbo-Zhoushan leapfrogged compatriot Shenzhen to climb into the top three for the first time — albeit only just, with a margin of around 600,000 teu.

The big mover in 2019 among the upper echelons of the top 100 was Guangzhou. The Chinese port, located on the west bank of the Pearl River Delta, moved up to fifth position, swapping places with Hong Kong, which fell to seventh, and above Busan, which stayed at sixth.

Elsewhere in the top 10, Qingdao held on to eighth position, while fellow Chinese port Tianjin outstripped Dubai, as the Middle East giant struggled to fend off transhipment competition in the region.

 

Standout performers

So, who were the big winners?

In terms of throughput percentage growth, King Abdullah, a relative newcomer, topped the pile. The Saudi port finished the year with figures of 2.3m teu, up 35.8% on its 2017 total, with carriers making the most of the transhipment opportunities provided by its strategic Red Sea location, requiring minimal deviation from Suez-transiting services.

Other ports that will be celebrating a more than prosperous 2018 will be long-term absentee San Antonio, making the cut with volume growth of 28.1% to 1.7m teu after reaping the rewards of a rejuvenated Chilean economy; and China’s Rizhao.

Rizhao hit the heights of 24.8% following a breakthrough year, which saw it establish itself firmly as a growing container port serving the north and Southeast Asian markets.

The trio of Abu Dhabi, Buenos Aires and Gdansk were the only other ports to report increases of more than 20% in 2018.

And the losers?

The unfortunate title of ‘biggest loser’ in 2018 was the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where significant gains the previous year were effectively wiped out in one fell swoop as US sanctions took their toll, prompting a 22.5% drop in box numbers and, with it, sliding 17 ranking places.

Other ports reporting double-digit downgrades in throughput totals were the Panamanian port of Balboa, Salalah in Oman, China’s Dongguan and the UAE’s Khorfakkan.

 

Regional breakdown

China:

Although average volume growth at Chinese ranked ports in 2018 was not quite at the same level as the previous year, increases of 4.3% were nothing to be sniffed at.

This is particularly the case when considering the country’s high-profile trade spat with the US, not to mention its move to step away from an export-led economic growth model.

The 22 Chinese ports taking up ranking spots this year — including its regular seven in the top 10 — shifted 236.1m teu across their docks in 2018. This represented an impressive 38.3% of total global liftings, down slightly on 2017’s overall share of 38.6%.

Lloyd’s List also welcomed a Chinese newcomer to the equation in 2018 in the shape of Jiaxing, a flourishing feeder facility situated on the southern edge of the Yangtze River Delta.

Jiaxing placed 96th in 2018, but with plans in place to develop the port to accommodate 5m teu come 2030, there is every chance it will be become a top 100 mainstay.

However, it was a case of one in, one out, as the rankings said goodbye to former stalwart Dandong. The port sits on the Chinese border with North Korea on the banks of the Yalu River, acting as a major gateway for trade to its isolated neighbour. With UN sanctions placed on North Korea, Dandong’s volumes have tumbled, losing more than half of its box business in 2018.

In addition to Dongguan, where volumes fell back 10.5%, the only other Chinese port to report a fall in traffic was Hong Kong, which saw volumes drop back below the 20m teu mark at the hands of both land constraints and the intense competition from neighbouring ports.

Asia (excluding China):

Outside of China, throughput figures among top 100 ranked ports in Asia continued to grow with vigour in 2018, climbing 6.5% on the previous year’s total to 171.4m teu, or 27.8% of overall liftings.

The region’s ports represented a quarter of all entries, with 25 facilities holding positions on this year’s table, down from 26 last year after India’s Chennai lost its elite port status.

Beyond the success stories of Busan and Singapore, volume growth continued to swell in developing countries.

Notable increases came from ports in Vietnam, namely Ho Chi Minh City and Cai Mep, where box figures grew 16.4% and 7%, respectively; Bangladesh’s Chittagong, up 8.9%; and Indonesia, where the ports of Tanjung Priok and Tanjung Perak saw totals climb 12.7% and 8.8%, respectively.

Economies in these countries are booming. International trade is being driven by the ongoing trend of manufacturers moving production away from their traditional home in northern China to Southeast Asia, as a more cost-effective means of business.

Elsewhere, Colombo, Sri Lanka, located just below the Indian sub‑continent and halfway across the Indian Ocean, stayed true to form, posting a 12.7% teu increase for the year.

The port handled a record 7m teu in 2018, as lines continued to make the most of its attractive proposition for transhipping cargoes on westbound voyages destined for India and much of the Middle East.

The Indian majors of Mundra and Jawaharlal Nehru, Mumbai, also posted respectable volume increases off the back of the nation’s rapid economic growth.

Middle East:

Volume growth across the Middle East majors was, on the whole, subdued, as the region’s key economies suffered against falling oil output and rising political tension.

The region also lost two top 100 members in 2018: Dammam in Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

However, the rankings also gained an additional port from the region with the return of Abu Dhabi, which, like King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia, is positioning itself as a major Middle East player.

Abu Dhabi reported a 24.3% jump in box traffic last year, as it welcomed its second carrier-affiliated terminal operator to the port, Cosco Shipping Ports, joining Mediterranean Shipping Co’s port arm Terminal Investment Ltd (TIL) in the UAE.

With the pair naturally looking to push through traffic via their respective liner associates, Abu Dhabi has welcomed several new services, including those at the expense of Dubai, which saw box numbers fall 2.7%.

However, Dubai still stands as by far and away the region’s largest port, with volumes of nearly 15m teu, more than three times its nearest teu rival Jeddah.

Increasing competition in the Middle East for transhipment business also took its toll on Salalah, reporting a double-digit drop in teu, which was the region’s other major casualty in 2018 alongside Bandar Abbas.

Northern Europe:

Despite a backdrop of Brexit and slower economic growth beyond just the UK, the mature Northern European market reported a more than respectable 3.6% growth figure for 2018.

It was a case of ‘as you were’ in terms of Northern European ranking representatives, with 10 in total.

There were, however, mixed fortunes for ports in the north of the continent.

The UK’s two largest ports, Felixstowe and Southampton, witnessed lower throughput figures in 2018 than the previous 12 months. Meanwhile London, driven by new services into DP World’s deepwater London Gateway facility, performed more than amicably, with volumes up by an impressive 11.1%.

The two biggest ports in the Hamburg‑Le Havre range, Rotterdam and Antwerp, reported record figures, while the German ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven saw numbers fall back slightly.

However, it was the Polish port of Gdansk that stood as the region’s big winner. Volumes grew by a further 22.2%, with more services drawn to the Polish port by its direct access to east European markets.

Mediterranean:

Ports dotted along the Mediterranean enjoyed a fruitful 2018, with transhipment activity in the region particularly brisk.

Volumes across the region grew by an impressive 7.1%, with all but one — the long-suffering Gioia Tauro — enjoying growth of some form.

Valencia held on to its crown as the Med’s top container port, posting 7.3% growth, eclipsing the 5m teu barrier for the first time in the process, as volumes were buoyed by the arrival of CS Ports upon its takeover of long-term resident Noatum Ports.

The Spanish port held off competition from its domestic rival Algeciras. However, despite reporting 8.7% growth of its own, Algeciras was overtaken by Greek giant Piraeus, undergoing a renaissance upon its Cosco takeover.

Volumes at the east Mediterranean port leaped 18.4% to move just a few hundred thousand teu behind Valencia, which will be looking over its shoulder nervously when 2019 figures are released.

North America:

Los Angeles topped the bill in North America once again in 2018, while maintaining its status as the largest box facility in the western hemisphere.

Growth, though, was moderate, at 1.2% — and, if not for a sudden rush of cargoes ahead of proposed tariffs at the start of 2019, increases would have been marginal.

Nevertheless, North America fared well, despite the protectionist policies of the Trump Administration that many feared would stunt throughput progress at US facilities.

With the US economy ticking along nicely, as well as the close-of-year rush and a sizeable growth contribution from northern neighbour Canada, the continent’s combined volumes grew 5.2% in 2018.

Los Angeles’ neighbour Long Beach was the winner on the Pacific coast, closing the gap on its Californian counterpart as volumes surged 7.2% to more than 8m teu.

Meanwhile, on the Atlantic seaboard and in the US Gulf, it was Montreal and Houston that led the way, with volumes up 9.2% and 9.8%, respectively, amid other success stories.

Central and South America:

Ports in Central and South America posted combined container throughput growth of 7.3% in 2018.

There is also a new king sitting on the regional throne. Panama’s Colón replaces Santos as the largest box port in Latin America and the Caribbean, as carriers increasingly make the most of the transhipment opportunities offered by the complex to larger vessels transiting the Panama Canal.

Regional volumes were also boosted by the return of Buenos Aires to the fold, which saw traffic and services come back upon much-needed port reforms in the country, and San Antonio, where volumes are currently ticking to the tune of a vibrant economy.

Indeed, strong throughput growth was a theme at most ports, including Cartagena, Guayaquil and Kingston, with Balboa proving the only exception.

Whereas 2018 was a year to remember for Colón, for the fellow Panamanian port, located at the opposite Pacific entrance to the country’s infamous canal, it was one to forget.

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