Shipping steady despite trade disruption: Study

Movement of container vessels and oil tankers in the Indian Ocean continued as usual during pandemic even though trade between nations was disrupted, finds a study by the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR).

The centre has undertaken an independent analysis of shipping traffic in the Indian Ocean Region and has observed that the impact of the pandemic was seen on shore as cargo piled up in ports and turnaround times were affected.

The report on the ‘Effect of Covid on shipping in IOR ’ has been hosted on the IFC-IOR website and is written by Commander Vrat Baghel, who is serving as the analysis officer at the IFC-IOR. The report observes that the shipping activity in the Indian Ocean remained comparable with levels seen in previous months. The report analysed the vessel movement in the Indian Ocean region between January and May to identify the effect of the global lockdown on trade activity.

The report also observes that fishing at sea has continued unabated and with this illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing may have also continued.

While all indicators point to a global industrial slowdown with overseas trade severely hit, the study of maritime traffic in the IOR indicated minimal change. For the study, the sea route below Sri Lanka has been taken as a sample area and no discernible change has been found in traffic density. A study of fortnight-wise traffic through Malacca from January to May also revealed no large variation.

The pandemic effect on traffic does suggest that several vessels may have undertaken blank sailings, wherein container vessels may have sailed without any cargo being loaded at some ports.

“We have seen that the flow of oil has been uninterrupted, with only minor variations” states the report.

Another interesting observation found that during the lockdown period vessels would be “hanging around” at sea before entering a port. The move could have been a strategy to spend 14 days at sea before entering a port in order to avoid quarantine.

The report does point out that all major ports in the country reported congestion, piling up containers and longer turnaround times. However, a proper assessment of the Covid-19 impact could be ascertained only once the quarterly financial reports are released.