Unitised Traffic Report Q1 2021
When combined, the volume of unitised (i.e. RoRo and LoLo) traffic on the island of Ireland declined in Q1 2021 by 4%. However, there were significant variations by shipping mode, port and route.
In the Republic of Ireland, RoRo volumes declined by 13%, or 36,400 RoRo units. This is the largest Q1 decline since 2009. ROI RoRo volume changes in Q1 2021 were driven by a considerable decline in ROI – GB traffic of 31%, or 71,800 units. This was offset by a surge in ROI – EU RoRo traffic, which rose by 74%, or 35,400 units. Of these additional EU RoRo units, 69% were handled by Rosslare Europort, and 30% were handled by Dublin Port. Dublin Port holds a 62% share of ROI – EU traffic in Q1 2021, with Rosslare Europort holding a 36% share, and Cork a 1% share. In Northern Ireland, RoRo volumes increased by 7%, or 15,000 units.
As a result of these changes, ROI – EU increased its share of all-island volumes from 10% to 18%, while NI – GB volumes increased its share from 42% to 47%. Importers and exporters who chose to use direct EU services benefitted from an unprecedented level of additional RoRo & LoLo capacity introduced by shipping operators in the last 6 months. In the RoRo market, the response by shipping operators doubled available capacity on direct RoRo services to continental Europe.
The fall in ROI – GB traffic in Q1 was driven by three main factors; a declined in the use of the UK Landbridge, a decline in the use of ROI – GB routes by NI businesses, and a large stockpile of merchandise goods built up by importers and exporters in late 2020. The move away from the Landbridge was driven by concerns of delays and disruption as a result of new customs controls on traffic between the UK and the EU.
LoLo traffic in the Republic of Ireland rose by 11% compared to Q1 2020, while LoLo traffic in Northern Irish ports rose by 13%. Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 were the busiest LoLo quarters on record for the Republic of Ireland, with each quarter surpassing 280,000 TEUs. The same factors that drove a surge in demand for direct RoRo services, also drove increased demand for LoLo services, most of which are direct to EU ports. RoRo and LoLo services are substitutable and shipping companies in these sectors compete for much of the same business.
The RoPax sector has been more severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other sector of the shipping industry. Tourist passenger numbers on the island of Ireland declined by 61% in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2020. Passenger numbers through ROI ports fell by 78% while numbers through NI ports fell by 46%. The passenger market has recorded precipitous declines for the past year. In 2020, more than 2 million fewer passengers travelled on ferry services to and from the island of Ireland.
Overall, the market for unitised traffic in Ireland and Northern Ireland is currently extremely competitive and dynamic. The declines in ROI-GB traffic and the increases recorded in ROI – EU traffic are unprecedented. It is unclear if these volumes will persist into the medium term. Similarly, it is uncertain whether demand for the UK Landbridge will remain low, or increase over time.
However, the unitised market has proven throughout the past year that it is highly resilient and adaptable. Shipping companies are currently facing the simultaneous impact of new customs and administrative barriers on ROI - GB traffic and severe restrictions on economic activity in Ireland, the UK and across continental Europe. The IMDO will continue to closely monitor and report on the performance of the Irish shipping, given the volatility of current market conditions.
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 RoRo volumes are measured in RoRo Units. LoLo volumes are measured in Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). To combine both, each mode is converted to tonnes.
The Quarterly Reports act as a summary of Irish shipping activity over the past quarter. They are typically released a little over a month after a quarter finishes. Once the data is collected and our indices are updated, the percentage change between the current year and the previous year is calculated, and these trends are drafted and analysed.
There are five different categories that we include in our statistical analysis:
- Lift On/Lift Off (Lo/Lo)
- Roll On/Roll Off (Ro/Ro)
- Liquid Bulk
- Dry Bulk
- Break Bulk
Typically, the Lo/Lo figures exclude unladen tonnage and the liquid bulk figures are broken down into two categories; figures that include transhipments and figures that exclude transhipments. These figures are used to inform the shipping, maritime and ports industries and also to assist the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in decision making on government policy. The figures are also used in the Irish Maritime Development Office's annual publication, the Irish Maritime Transport Economist.
iShip Index: The iShip index is a volume index for all freight traffic moved to and from the Republic of Ireland. This does not include passengers and transhipment activity. More information on the iShip index can be accessed here. For more information visit the three main cargo sub-sections of the IMDO website.