Seaborne trade increase and new ship deliveries slowed in 2012, but these did not boost the maritime shipping industry’s profitability, according to the Review of Maritime Transport 2013 of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
International maritime trade rose in volume by 4.3 percent, reaching 9.2 billion tons for the first time ever.
The improvement was driven by rising domestic demand in China and by increased intra-Asian and south-south trade, said the review, released December 5.
World container port throughput also increased by an estimated 3.8 percent in 2012 to 601.8 million twenty-foot equivalent units on the back of strong investments in port infrastructure.
The report said that for the first time in over a decade, the number of ships entering into service in 2012 declined compared to the total from the previous year. This, however, did not lead to a reduction in cargo capacity.
“The largest cycle of ship building in history—the cargo capacity of the world fleet more than doubled between 2001 and January 2013—finally began to slow, but even with fewer new ships, world tonnage capacity continued to climb in 2012, up by 6 percent over January 2012. That meant the prevailing oversupply of shipping capacity continued through 2012,” said the report.
The steady delivery of new vessels into an already oversupplied market, coupled with the weak global economy, kept shipping rates under heavy pressure, it continued.
“The low freight rates that prevailed in 2012 reduced carriers’ earnings close to, and even below, operating costs, especially when bunker oil prices remained both high and volatile.”
In addition to finding ways to reduce fuel consumption, the industry also had to cope with challenges related to energy security and costs, climate change, and environmental sustainability.
But the review also noted emerging opportunities, including from growing regional seaborne trade and south–south cooperation, as well as the anticipated expansion and opening of new sea routes through the arctic and through the widened Panama Canal.
Notable long-term trends, meanwhile, favor larger cargo vessels and a dwindling in the number of liner companies serving each country.
The average number of carriers per country has decreased by 27 percent over the past decade, from 22 in 2004 to 16 in early 2013, based on UNCTAD’s Liner Shipping Connectivity Index , which now has compiled data for 10 years.
“This reduction in choice among shippers poses challenges, especially for smaller developing countries, which are confronted with potentially oligopolistic markets,” the report said.
Maritime transport is the backbone of international trade and the global economy. Around 80 percent of global trade by volume and over 70 percent of global trade by value are carried by sea and handled by ports worldwide, UNCTAD said.
Photo: David Davies