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2020 November 26

BPA: under Brexit and COVID-19 pressure

In his interview with the PortNews magazine, Richard Ballantyne, BPA Chief Executive Officer, tells about BPA activities amid the pandemic and Brexit challenges.

- Mr Ballantyne, could you please tell how the BPA ports performance has been affected by COVID-19 pandemic? What cargo throughput figures do you expect by the year-end and what was the total freight volume handled at your ports a year earlier?

- The British Ports Association (BPA) represents more than 400 UK ports, harbours and marine facilities which between them handle over 400 million tonnes of freight each year, while all UK ports collectively handle 480 tonnes. Unlike many other maritime states the UK’s ports industry is both strategically and financially independent of Government and ports compete with others in the sector. The BPA is a membership body that exists to provide a network and to lobby on non-commercial activities.

The UK Government recent published the provisional port volumes for the second quarter of 2020 and these found that when comparing April to June 2020 with April to June 2019 the total volume of freight tonnage decreased by 18% to 96.1 million tonnes, the total volume of unitised traffic (goods transported by containers, trucks and trailers) decreased by 44% to 3.2 million units.

- Have you seen any signs of revival of seaborne traffic in recent months?

- Yes bulks, containers, Ro-Ro and offshore services have recovered fairly well but there are still gaps in terms of cruise and passenger ferries which have been badly hit.  

- What is the range of cargo types handled at your ports? Are there any Russian exports/imports in the list? If so, what is their share in total freight traffic at BPA ports?

- The UK is import driven, with approximately a 60%-40% split in imports and exports. The main cargo in tonnage terms are liquid bulks including oil and gas products which comprise 40% of our trade, with around 23% Ro-Ro, 20% dry bulks and 12% Lo-Lo. UK ports also specialise in a number of offshore services for the energy sector and separately have a healthy numbers of fish landings, particularly in Scotland.

In terms of Russian trade, in 2019 the UK ports handled over 14 million tonnes of trade being imported/exported from/to Russia. The vast majority of which is liquid bulk traffic such as crude and refined oil exported from Russia to the UK. The top goods imported by Russia from the UK in the year to June 2019 were cars, medicinal and pharmaceutical products, mechanical power generators and industrial machinery.

- How do you estimate the Brexit aftermath: has it affected or will affect the operation of British ports in the future?

- For many UK ports trade will continue as it does now next year when our EU transitional period finishes, however for some the impact of leaving the European Customs Union and Single Market will be substantial. As an island the UK relies heavily on trade with the EU and about half of our European traffic is via Ro-Ro freight services for which dealing with new customs and health controls could be a big disrupter. Even if there is a Brexit deal we know that there will be these new border controls so the industry and Government is building digital and physical infrastructure to prepare. If there is a no deal outcome we will also see tariffs added to UK-EU trade which will add more costs to trade activities.

 

"The impact of leaving the European Customs Union and Single Market will be substantial for some UK ports"

 

- Are there any LNG bunkering operations performed at the ports of the Association, or bunkering by other types of alternative fuels? What are the schemes (ship-to-ship / truck-to-ship)? Is there an infrastructure available at the BPA ports for charging vessels with electric propulsion?

- There are some limited LNG bunkering and shore power activities in the UK but we expect to see further facilities shortly. Shipping demand for shore power is still modest although we are seeing more political and community stakeholder interest in the technology to meet environmental aims.

- What are the measures implemented at the Association's ports to reduce harmful emissions?

- The larger ports in England that handle over 1 million tonnes of freight each year are implementing air quality strategies which can assess and measure environmental impacts. A number of ports are looking at using electric vehicles and port plant and machinery and the UK Government is raising standards for lorries so their pollute less.

- What is the role of riverborne traffic in the UK to deliver goods to / from seaports?

This activity is relatively small as an island nowhere in the UK is more than 2hrs from the coast and we don’t have many major inland water services. That said you still see barges of waste being transported along the River Thames through London which takes this traffic off the capital’s roads.

- What are the BPA achievements in digital transformation of port operations, electronic navigation, etc.?

- As with elsewhere around the globe, UK ports are investing in new systems and linking up with customers and port users to discuss their needs. A number of ports are looking at how they get smarter and the UK Government has started a programme to look at how ports can embrace innovation. We are still at a relatively early stage really although the BPA itself is now looking at autonomous shipping activities and how they might affect our ports.

 

Interviewed by Safir Khakuz khakuz59@gmail.com

 

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