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Coronavirus wipes away 1.7m teu of liner business

The coronavirus is set to wipe a “chilling” 1.7m teu of container business, according to new research from Copenhagen-based Sea-Intelligence. Using what the consultancy admits as a “very rough” average of $1,000 per teu in freight rates, the Wuhan-originated illness translates into a $1.7bn shortfall in revenues for carriers.

The 1.7m teu loss is equal to 1% of the total global volume in 2019, meaning the virus is thus far on track to reduce global container growth in 2020 by 1 percentage point.

“Another way to look at this is to note that global container volumes grew 0.7% in 2019. The Coronavirus has thus more than erased the full global growth seen in 2019,” Sea-Intelligence noted in its latest weekly report.

The ramifications of this drop in business will also be keenly felt at ports and terminals. Any given container gives rise to 3.5 to four handling moves in terminals so the 1.7m teu drop in business is likely to lead to a handling shortfall in terminals around the world of around 6m to 6.8m teu.

More than one in two carrier departures from Asia to North Europe are being cancelled in the wake of the spread of the deadly virus. Capacity reductions over the eight-week period from Chinese New Year are expected to reach about 700,000 teu according to another container analyst, Alphaliner, far more severe than the 340,000 teu cuts seen in the same post-Chinese New Year period last year. Capacity reductions on other routes have been similarly debilitating for global supply chains with Alphaliner estimating the Asia – Med route will reach about 290,000 teu, while 680,000 teu will be removed from the transpacific. Alphaliner has predicted the virus will reduce container cargo volumes at Chinese ports – including Hong Kong – by more than 6m teu in the first quarter of 2020.

Maritime Strategies International believes the impact will be most keenly felt on the intra-Asia trades where Chinese exports to foreign manufacturers play a key role.

Data from Sea-Intelligence earlier this month suggested the illness has been costing liners up to $350m in lost revenues every week.

“Currently we are seeing carriers trying to mitigate the low container volumes in Chinese ports by blanking sailings. If the situation continues, we could start to see global supply outages in retail stores. Manufacturing in Europe and North America could also start to decline, as some supply chains are reliant upon the Chinese semi-finished goods,” Peter Sand, BIMCO’s chief shipping analyst in a report issued on Friday.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Is this what passes for ‘research’ these days?
    I would call these consultants’ estimates, at best, guesswork……
    We all know that the effects of Covid-19 are bad and getting worse but what is the point of publishing such meaningless and speculative numbers which are based on nothing factual?
    A week ago the self-proclaimed ‘leading expert’ pronounced losses of $ 350m, so the rule seems to be to pick any number you can envisage and add a bunch of noughts. This is not informative or good journalism, but tabloid sensationalism.

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