Erik dissects Swedish Ports’ statistics report

The analyzing of statistics is one of the most important things we can do when developing the base of decision support. That everything would then continue just the same going forward, year after year, was hardly likely but the expression ”the trend is your friend” seems to be remarkably applicable here. The trade organization Swedish Ports have just published statistics for the year 2015. I have analyzed it, reflected a little and asked a few questions to myself, as well as to the industry and politicians.

Growth at Swedish ports?

My general picture, and when I talk to colleagues in other ports, is that we believe that growth in the Swedish ports has been greater than it actually was. In the container industry we talk of an historic growth of between 8 to 12 percent annually. But are these figures accurate?

Cargo delivered quayside, in tons, increased by 12 percent since 2000. This represents a 0.7 percent growth per year, a shamefully poor growth. Port of Gävle tops the table with an average yearly growth of 4.2 percent with Port of Södertälje doing well at 2 percent. Sweden’s BNP during the same period grew by 1.6 percent per year, that is to say nearly more than double.

TEU growth

On the container front, things look a bit brighter. Growth in Sweden has, since 2000, been at 39 percent, which gives an average of 2.6 percent per year, three times more than the general port growth and more than 50 percent higher than GDP growth. These figures sound good but, in fact, they are very bad. In the outside world, growth was just under 10 percent per year. In our business we look to see a doubling of growth every seventh or eighth year, but this does not apply in Sweden. There have been, and there will be some large investments made in Swedish container ports in the future; it would be interesting to read the volume prognosis regarding these investments. My suspicion is that everything has been reckoned by conveniently using international growth figures rather than the low national figures.

Scandinavia's largest container port has, during the last 15 years, reduced its Swedish market share of 67-56 per cent of TEU handled in Sweden. I doubt that port authorities or the Danish operator, both of which have invested big money, are especially pleased. A total of 861 685 containers (1,4 m TEU) were handled by Swedish ports in 2015. The number of trailer lorries that frequented the seven largest Ro-Ro ports in the same year amounted to 2 481 209. Isn’t therefore time to implement a road wear fee?

Vessel arrival at Swedish ports

An analysis of vessel arrivals at Swedish ports is also of interest. According to statistics, in 2000 there were 118 000 vessel arrivals. Last year that number had fallen to 68 000, a decrease of nearly 50 percent. This reduction in the number of arrivals is one of the reasons that the Maritime Administration has now submitted a proposal on changing shipping lane charges from January 2017. The Maritime Administration are losing their revenue. Comparing the number of arrivals by number tons of cargo handled at ports one can see a clear leverage. The number of arrivals decreases dramatically, the amount of cargo increases only slightly. This provides for a near doubling of the number of tons of cargo handled to and from ships for each arrival, +94 percent to be exact.

Gothenburg sticks out in that their concentration of handled goods of each arrival was 126 percent whilst Stockholm only managed a measly 16 percent concentration. I’m guessing the ’Gothenburg effect’ is due to Maersk’s, later to become MSC, giant ships that dock regularly at port whilst Stockholm is not used to this kind of ferry traffic. Larger vessels will not be able to dock in Stockholm without the opening of a new shipping lane.

The development of goods transport

If we look back 50 years and make an analysis in the development of goods transport in Sweden we can see a clear trend. Transports by road have since quadrupled. Shipping has grown by 25 percent and transports by rail 40 percent. To put it bluntly, road transports win, hands down. A detailed study of the years 2000 to 2014 shows the same development. Lorry traffic has seen a growth of 18 percent while other forms of transport trail behind. So, nothing has really changed despite all the fuss about C02 emissions and greenhouse gases.

High time for our politicians to act

When I read the Swedish Transport Administration's briefs that were out in the consultation process early in the year, it states ‘Total freight transport performance increased by about 55 percent between 2010 and 2030, and goods transport by road and by sea increased nearly 60 percent and rail 37 percent’. However, we haven’t been presented with any growth figures for rail and shipping since the last 50 years. The trend seems to going in the opposite direction. Of course I hope the Transport Administration is right, being the friend of shipping that I am. But I am unfortunately equally convinced that it will not happen unless politicians dare to take some uncomfortable decisions.

The governmental think-tank ’Traffic Analysis’ also think that things are going in the wrong direction. In its monitoring of the transport policy objectives for 2015 they write: ”Transport supply is still dominantly dependent on fossil fuels that cause hundreds of deaths each year and seriously injured in road accidents. Thousands of people are affected by exhaust fumes and noise. Although some aspects of the transport system evolve towards a state closer to sustainability, it cannot be said that transport security is sustainable in the long term. Nor can it be said that the current state has changed in any significant way since the goals were adopted in."

If our politicians are serious about reaching their goals it is high time to act, otherwise no change in trends will happen. A good start, and something that will be interesting to follow, will be the mission the government has given to the Maritime Administration to analyze the development potential of inland waterways and coastal shipping. As for the Port of Södertälje’s part, I welcome an invitation for discussion and the opportunity to involve ourselves in this important work.

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