There was a 6% decline in shipping activity in Irish ports in the first quarter of the year.
The latest Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) iShip index for Q1 2020, representing the main maritime freight categories moving through Irish ports, shows that tonnage declines in the dry bulk and roll-on-roll-off markets drove this decrease, contributing 65% and 30% to the fall respectively.
IMDO is Ireland’s dedicated development, promotional and marketing agency for the shipping and shipping services sector.
Across all market segments, the bulk market makes up 55% of Irish tonnage, roll-on/off (RoRo) 30% and lift-on/off (LoLo) 15%.
The combined RoRo and LoLo sectors make up the unitised trade market, largely finished goods further along the supply chain than the raw materials traded in the bulk markets.
In the three months to March, total Irish RoRo traffic fell by 5% while LoLo traffic declined by 3%, with three main contributing factors.
Firstly, Q1 2019 experienced significant growth in both sectors.
RoRo traffic expanded by 9% while LoLo traffic grew by 7%, both outpacing its quarterly average of 5% between Q1 2015 and Q4 2018.
Driving the growth in Q1 2019 was a period of inventory stockpiling that took place in as the UK's proposed date of departure from the EU approached on 29 March.
Secondly, a period of inclement weather in February 2020 led to some cancelled sailings, reducing freight carryings during that time.
Lastly, restraints on economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact upon the RoRo and LoLo market in the latter half of March 2020.
Business closures across retail, construction and hospitality sectors will have begun to impact the both markets from this period onwards.
The onset of COVID-19 in March stalled the recovery from lost sailings due to inclement weather in February.
The dry bulk market drove almost two-thirds of the overall Irish tonnage decline in Q1, with drops in agricultural and construction commodities such as fertiliser, animal feed and bauxite.
COVID-19 restrictions will become apparent in Q2 2020 for Irish shipping markets with considerable tonnage decline across all market sectors.
Along with quarterly economic analysis and academic research, IMDO produces an annual statistical bulletin on the Irish shipping market and the Irish Maritime Transport Economist, a comprehensive source of national maritime traffic data.