unctad.org | Shipping industry recovering, but still hampered by oversupply of vessels and depressed freight rates, report says
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Shipping industry recovering, but still hampered by oversupply of vessels and depressed freight rates, report says

19 December 2010

The Review of Maritime Transport 2010 warns that numerous uncertainties and the fragile global economic conditions may still hinder the hard-pressed shipping industry

Geneva, 20 December 2010 -- International seaborne trade contracted by 4.5 per cent in 2009, reports UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport 2010 . That decline put seaborne trade at below 2007 levels. It had climbed to an all-time high in 2008.

The Review of Maritime Transport 2010(1) estimates total seaborne trade during 2009 at 7.84 billion tons. Although a global recovery is currently under way, it is uneven, slower than the recoveries that have followed previous recessions, and subject to numerous uncertainties and to the fragile global economic conditions, the study says. Signs show that the shipping industry and seaborne trade are recovering, but it will likely take some time for the industry to return to its 2009 levels.

Seaborne trade in dry bulk commodities - such as iron ore, grain, coal, bauxite/alumina and phosphate, which represent around one quarter of seaborne trade - actually grew by an estimated 1.4 per cent in 2009. However, this figure masks fluctuations by commodity type. Bauxite and alumina, which are key components in aluminium production and are used primarily in the transport and construction industries, suffered a 23.2 per cent decline. Phosphate rock, used as a fertilizer by the agriculture industry, suffered a 38.7 per cent decline. Iron ore shipments rose to an estimated 907 million tons in 2009 - an increase of 7.8 per cent over the previous year. China accounted for much of the increase in iron ore trade, with imports growing by 38.9 per cent, whereas Japan´s imports declined by 24.8 per cent and Western Europe´s imports declined by 38.2 per cent.

The supply of new vessels showed no signs of abating. At the beginning of 2010, the world merchant fleet reached 1,276 million deadweight tons (dwt) - an increase of 84 million dwt over 2009. This growth resulted from record new deliveries of 117 million dwt, compared to demolitions and other withdrawals from the market totalling about 33 million dwt. New deliveries in 2009 were 42 per cent higher than in 2008 because of the orders that had been placed prior to the downturn in global demand. The resulting oversupply of tonnage then led to an over 300 per cent surge in demolitions of older tonnage. However, despite this increase, the combined effect of a downturn in demand and an oversupply of vessels meant that freight rates for many vessel types remained depressed.

World container port throughput declined by an estimated 9.7 per cent to 465.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2009, the report says. UNCTAD´s Liner Shipping Connectivity Index revealed that the average ranking of the least developed countries (LDCs) in 2010 was 111, compared to an average ranking of 78 for other developing countries and 64 for developed countries. The rating indicates that LDCs remain isolated from major or frequently serviced shipping routes. Between 2004 and 2010, the connectivity ranking of LDCs improved by just 1 point.

The Review of Maritime Transport 2010 also details recent developments in maritime legislation, such as steps by the International Maritime Organization regarding the scope and content of an international regime to control emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping. In April 2010, a Protocol on the 1996 Hazardous and Noxious Substances Convention was adopted which aims to bring about wider adoption of the Convention.

Every year, the Review of Maritime Transport looks at transport developments in a particular region. The focus in the 2010 edition is on developments in Asia since 2007, when UNCTAD last reported on the region. GDP growth in the Asia-Pacific region decelerated to 4 per cent in 2009 - its lowest level in eight years. In tandem with the economic situation, growth in international merchandise trade in the region decelerated in 2008 and contracted in 2009. By 2010, economic indicators were showing a recovery in the region´s economic growth and trade, with some economies already showing signs of a return to pre-crisis growth and export levels. However, the recovery remains fragile and is subject to downside risks.

Maritime transport is the single most important transport mode; it has around 80 per cent of the market share in the international movement of goods. However, in some developing countries this percentage is much higher, due to cumbersome cross-border procedures and an underdeveloped land transport infrastructure. The Review of Maritime Transport 2010 also covers developments from January 2009 to mid-2010 in other modes of transport, such as road, rail, and inland waterways.


1.The Review of Maritime Transport 2010 (Sales No. E.10.II.D.4, ISBN 978-92-1-112810-9) may be obtained from United Nations Sales Offices at the below-mentioned addresses or from United Nations sales agents in many countries. Price: US$ 95 (50% discount for residents in developing countries and a 75% discount for residents in least developed countries). Residents of countries in Europe, Africa and West Asia may send orders or inquiries to: United Nations Publication/Sales Section, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, fax: +41 22 917 0027, e-mail: unpubli@un.org; and those from the Americas and East Asia, to: United Nations Publications, Two UN Plaza, DC2-853, New York, N.Y. 10017, U.S.A., telephone: 1 212 963 8302 or 1 800 253 9646, fax: 1 212 963 3489, e-mail: publications@un.org. Internet: http://www.un.org/publications

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