As the global COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, governments responded with local or national lockdowns. One of the consequences of these lockdowns were spikes in port congestions across ports and even entire countries. One of the patterns, that we noticed back in March was Indonesian congestion spiking overnight as a result of the nation-wide Philippine lockdown which hindered the operations of vessels bound to load coal.
In this article, we will explore a more recent example, namely the “Sugar Shipping Rush” at the port of Santos, Brazil, which last week led to another spike in congestion. On 08 June 2020, the New York Times brought an article on the topic, arguing that the port congestion was happening amid fears of a possible disruption of loading operations due to COVID-19.
Our congestion algorithm caught wind of the first signs of excess congestion on 19 February 2020, when the 20-day moving average crossed the seasonally adjusted 20-day moving average of 2017-2019. This marked the beginning of the first of two congestion spikes at the port of Santos. Figure 1 depicts these two spikes across all dry bulk vessel segments.
Interestingly, when further breaking down the data, it becomes evident that the first spike was driven purely by Panamax vessels (Figure 2), while the second spike was mostly driven by Supramax vessels (Figure 3). We believe that the Panamax congestion was a sign of the strong harvest season in Brazil as our trade flow data indicates that grains loaded at Santos were up 30% year-on-year for the months of March and April. The fact that it was Supramax vessels causing congestion during the “Sugar Shipping Rush” makes intuitive sense as Supramax vessels are a common choice for shipping sugar in bulk.
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