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Seaborne Coal Trade Took a Major Hit in 2020

Seaborne coal trade was one of the major “losers” of 2020, as total loadings fell significantly as a result of lower demand. In a recent weekly report, shipbroker Banchero Costa said that “2020 proved to be a truly terrible year for seaborne coal trade. Total loadings in the 12 months of 2020 were down -12.7% year-on-year to 1130 million tonnes, according to vessels tracking data from Refinitiv. Despite all the global talk about “going green” and “fight on carbon”, coal trade was still growing strongly until 2019. It expanded by +2.5% in 2019 and by +3.2% in 2018. However, Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns proved a body blow”.

Banchero Costa said that “despite all the noise about the Chinese ban on Australian coal in the final part of the year, China was actually still one of the best performers in the year. China’s seaborne coal imports in 2020 declined by -8.2% y-o-y to 242.0 mln tonnes. India, the world’s second largest importer of coal, was more strongly affected; imports were down by -11.4% y-o-y to 186.0 mln tonnes. But the worst performer by far was the European Union. Seaborne coal imports into the EU27 (excluding the UK) crashed by -32.4% y-o-y in the 12 months of 2020 to just 68.6 mln tonnes, from 101.5 mln tonnes in 2019. This was also -44.1% down from the 122.6 mln tonnes imported in 2018. and -48.0% down from the 131.9 mln tonnes imported in 2017. Clearly, the trend was already there for some time. It took a sharp acceleration in 2020.

Source: banchero costa &c s.p.a.

The main coal import terminals in the European Union (27) are: Rotterdam in the Netherlands (15.7 mln tonnes discharged in 2020), Amsterdam Netherlands (5.3 mln tonnes), Hamburg Germany (4.6 mln tonnes), Gdansk Poland (4.2), Dunkirk France (3.2), Ljmuiden Netherlands (3.2), Gijon Spain (2.5), Fos France (2.1), Ghent Belgium (1.9), Taranto Italy (1.7), Vlissingen Netherlands (1.5), Civitavecchia Italy (1.5), Brindisi Italy (1.3), Koper Slovenia (1.3), Porto Torres Italy (1.1), Bakar Croatia (1.1), Gdynia Poland (0.9), Oxelosund Sweden (0.9), P. Marghera Italy (0.9)”, said the shipbroker.

Image: Ocean Yield ASA

It added that “coal shipments into the EU were hit particularly hard in the first half of the year, and improved somewhat in the final quarter. In the first 3 months of 2020, the EU imported 17.6 mln tonnes of seaborne coal, down -42.8% y-o-y. The winter period was traditionally the strongest period of the year, driven by heating requirements. The second quarter of 2020 saw shipments of 15.5 mln tonnes into the EU, down -39.5% y-o-y. In the third quarter, imports improved marginally to 16.1 mln tonnes, which was down -27.3% y-o-y from the same quarter in 2019. The fourth quarter of 2020 saw the best volumes of the year, jumping to 19.3 mln tonnes, but this was still down -15.4% on a year-on-year basis. We now expect arrivals in Jan-Feb period of 2021 to reach 13.0 mln tonnes, which would be a +3.4% y-o-y improvement on the same two-month period last year. In terms of sources of the shipments, things didn’t change too much. Arrivals from Russia proved most resilient, declining by -11.2% y-o-y to 30.7 mln tonnes in 2020. Russia remains by far the top supplier of seaborne coal to the EU, accounting for 44.7% of volumes in 2020. The vast majority of Russian coal shipments to Europe are loaded at Baltic (Gulf of Finland) ports. 58% of last year’s cargoes were shipped from the port of Ust-Luga, and 7% from Vysotsk. Outside the Baltic Sea, about 25% of volumes were shipped from the northern port of Murmansk, and about 6% were loaded in the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk”, Banchero Costa noted.

Source: banchero costa &c s.p.a.

“After Russia, the second largest exporter of coal to Europe is the USA. Shipments from the USA to the EU were down -38.0% y-o-y to 12.1 mln tonnes in 2020, with a share of 17.7% of Europe’s seaborne coal imports. Imports from Australia were down -30.6% y-o-y to 11.0 mln tonnes. Shipments from Colombia to the EU plunged by -58.1% y-o-y to 5.3 mln tonnes. Imports from other EU countries crashed by -67.7% y-o-y to 1.6 mln tonnes. Volumes are also down by -87.5% from the 12.8 mln tonnes of 2018. This is largely due to Russia diverting cargoes from Latvian ports to its own Baltic ports like Ust-Luga”, the shipbroker concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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