Pandemic hits traffic at Dunkerque-Port but containers increase

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Traffic at Dunkerque-Port was seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with figures dropping from 52.6MT last year to 45.2MT in 2020 – a drop of 14% – the port said as it released its annual report yesterday (Thursday).

Speaking at a press conference, Emmanuelle Verger, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Dunkerque-Port said the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on almost every sector in the port: only the traffic in grain (3.3 MT, + 63%), Cross-Channel freight (607,000 units, + 4%) and containers (463,000 TEU, + 2%) continued to rise.

Liquid bulk dropped sharply from 18% to 7.7 MT. While oil remained stable (3.4 MT), LNG business fell to 3.5 MT (-20%), following a record year in 2019. In 2020, the LNG terminal berthed 52 vessels.

Other traffic fell overall by 24% to 0.8 MT.

Solid bulk fell very severely by 22% to 18.2 MT. The drastic drop in production at the Dunkerque steel plant logically weighed on traffic in iron ore (8.7 MT, – 34%) and coal (3.6 MT, – 28%). The coal sector also underwent the more structural effect of the drop in demand for steam coal. The very noticeable drop in “small” solid bulk traffic (2.6 MT, – 13%) reflects the virtual shutdown of the production system during the first lockdown.

However, grain set a new record for traffic in the calendar year with 3.3 MT (+ 63%).

General cargo dropped slightly by 4% to 19.3 MT. The break-bulk sector was severely affected (0.6MT, – 50%) due to the drop in exports of steel products. With 607,000 units transported (+ 4%), Cross-Channel freight traffic grew: DFDS maintained the operation of its three ships in Dunkerque throughout the year and the sector benefited at the end of the year from over-stocking by British importers. On the other hand, the tourism sector was hit hard by the lockdown and/or quarantine decisions taken during 2020: the number of passengers dropped 54% to 1,077,000 travellers, while the number of passenger cars collapsed by 70% to 173,000 vehicles. Finally, despite a particularly difficult context, containers posted a further increase of 2% to 463,000 TEUs. Over the past 10 years, cumulative growth in the sector has now reached 130%. Full containers increased by 5% to 290,000 TEUs.

Taking into account the economic crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and the anticipation of its consequences on certain traffics (passengers in particular), Dunkerque-Port reduced its 2020 investment budget to €21.6m, from the initially planned figure of €37.7m. The operations for which the works phase was in progress and those which were essential for the development of traffic or the marketing of the port precinct were given priority.

The 2021 investment budget, approved by the Supervisory Board on 20 November 2020, amounted to €51 million.

The year will be devoted to the completion and handover of the major logistics and industrial platforms, at a cost of €13m: Completion of development work on the Heavy Industries zone: €8m; Development work in the Dunkerque International Logistics South zone (platform and southwest access by bridge): €2m; Finalization of the preparation of the SNF platform: €3m.

2021 will also see the start of the first operations of the 2020-2024 Strategic Project costing €19m: Extension of the Dry-Port in order to promote connection between terminals and the development of intermodality: €10m This railway project is eligible for the recovery plan; Start of work to replace the RoRo 1 linkspan with the creation of a new RoRo 6 linkspan and the extension and protection of the service port will make it possible to berth a greater number of large ships (study and pre-project phase): €5m; Partial filling of the dock between the Grande-Synthe East quay and the QP2 jetty in order to develop the activity of the central port: €4m.

Notable achievements of the port in 2020 included the launch of a new container service between Dunkerque and Cork/Dublin  and CONTAINERSHIPS, a short-sea shipping company operating out of the port of Dunkerque since 2013, has just launched a service to and from the English ports of Liverpool and Bristol.

Ms Verger said despite the pandemic, the port had shown great resilience and operations had been able to continue while Eric Sorel, Harbour Master, spoke about Brexit saying though there were more formalities, there were no difficulties with the border and things were becoming smoother.

Indeed, this year the port is expecting an increase of Cross-Channel traffic with more passengers.