Unitised Traffic Report Q3 2021
Roll/on – Roll/off (RoRo):
In Q3 2021, RoRo volumes through ports in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) were consistent with those in Q3 20192. Between July and September, 297,920 RoRo units were handled at Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort, just 0.02% more than the same period in 2019. However, the configuration of RoRo traffic in terms of route choice and shipping mode has been significantly altered compared to 2019. The following is a summary of the most pronounced trends that have emerged in the RoRo freight market:
71% of all ROI RoRo traffic is now unaccompanied, compared to 64% in Q3 2019. This is the highest share held by unaccompanied traffic on record.
One third of all RoRo traffic in the Republic of Ireland now operates on direct routes to ports in the European Union, up from a 16% share held throughout 2019. In the first nine months of 2021, ROI – EU traffic is already 52% above its annual total for all of 2019. Q3 2021 was one the second busiest on record for these direct routes, surpassed only by Q2 2021.
In terms of capacity, Irish importers and exporters have benefitted from a significant increase in the choice of direct EU services in 2021. After responding to a surge in ‘direct demand’, there are now 13 different direct EU RoRo services available to Irish businesses, compared to 6 in 2019.3
ROI – GB RoRo traffic has declined significantly since January 2021. Volumes in Q1 2021 were distorted by a pre-Brexit stockpile, combined with strict COVID-19 restrictions in January and February. Q2 & Q3 2021 therefore provide a more reliable insight into current demand on ROI – GB routes. In Q3 2021, ROI – GB volumes fell by 20% compared to Q3 2019. The volume of traffic recorded in Q2 & Q3 2021 is the lowest since early 2015. In all, for the first nine months of the year, GB traffic has declined by 25% compared to 2019. ROI – GB traffic now accounts 67% of ROI volumes, compared to 84% throughout 2019.
In Northern Ireland (NI), RoRo traffic has reached unprecedented levels. Q3 2021 was the second busiest quarter on record, surpassed only by Q2 2021. In Q3, NI RoRo traffic rose by 11% when compared Q3 2019. All three Northern Ireland RoRo ports, Belfast and Warrenpoint & Larne, have recorded significant growth in RoRo traffic in 2021.
Underpinning all of these trends are the new customs and trading arrangements between Ireland and the UK that came into force on January 1st 2021 after Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Brexit has had a significant effect on RoRo traffic on the island of Ireland. The most prominent impact has been on the use of the UK Landbridge, a term used to describe a route to market that connects Irish importers and exporters to international markets via the UK road and ports network. Demand for the Landbridge has fallen considerably, and this has driven the simultaneous decline in ROI – GB traffic and increase in direct ROI – EU traffic.
In addition to the Landbridge issue, some RoRo traffic has also ‘transferred’ away from ROI - GB routes and towards NI – GB routes. RoRo services at ROI ports have historically been utilised by many NI hauliers wishing to access markets in the midlands and southeast of England. From early 2021, it was clear that haulage companies based in Northern Ireland had transferred some traffic away from RoRo services in ROI in order to avoid the new customs requirements involved between Ireland and UK ports.
As detailed in Section 3 (iii), the IMDO estimates that of the displaced ROI – GB RoRo traffic, approximately 80% has moved to ROI – EU services, while the remaining 20% has moved to NI – GB services.
Lift/on – Lift/off (LoLo):
Like RoRo traffic on direct EU routes, LoLo volumes have also reached unprecedented levels in 2021. LoLo traffic through ROI ports set a record in Q2 2021, surpassing 300,000 TEUs for the first time. In Q3 2021, volumes are slightly below this level, at 299,765 TEUs, but remain significantly above the average for the past five years. In Q3 2021, ROI LoLo traffic grew by 13% compared to Q3 2019.
Beginning midway through 2020, LoLo volumes have surged, and have consistently held onto gains made each quarter. Quarterly TEU volumes are now higher than the peaks recorded before the financial crash in 2008.
The vast majority of LoLo services on the island of Ireland are direct to continental EU ports. As a result, many of the factors that have driven a surge in ROI – EU RoRo traffic are applicable to the Irish LoLo market. LoLo volumes have benefitted greatly from the demand from Irish importers and exports to access EU markets directly, without the need to adhere to customs requirements at UK ports since Brexit.
Overall, in the last nine months, the substitutability between accompanied RoRo, unaccompanied RoRo and LoLo services has become more pronounced, with increased competition and dynamic capacity evident in each market.
As highlighted in the IMDO’s Q1 & Q2 reports, no Irish maritime market segment has been more severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions than the market for passengers.
Following the introduction of the EU Digital COVID Certificate in July 2021, the volume of passengers on maritime services in the Republic of Ireland rose significantly. Tourism / passenger numbers in the Republic of Ireland increased by 86% in Q3 2021 when compared to Q3 2020. In the summer of 2020, many international travel restrictions were still in place, both in the Republic of Ireland and across Europe. When compared to Q3 2019, passenger numbers in Q3 2021 declined by 56%. Since the initial wave of the pandemic in Ireland, this is the closest the industry has come to returning to 2019 passenger levels. In Northern Ireland, passenger numbers in Q3 2021 have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
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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.