Executive summary

  • The year 2020 saw an economic crisis out of the ordinary. Lockdowns, regulations of individual mobility and social distancing affected the economic behaviour of societies on an unprecedented scale. Real GDP (Real gross domestic product (Real GDP) is an inflation-adjusted measure that reflects the value of all goods and services produced by an economy in a given year (expressed in base-year prices)) contracted by 6% in the EU in 2020, which is a stronger contraction than during the financial crisis in 2009 (-4%).
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  • The impact that this pandemic had on economic activity was felt by the transport sector in general, and by inland navigation in particular. However, inland waterway cargo transport was more resilient than in earlier crisis situations, most likely because of an uneven reduction of economic activity across economic sectors (The 2009 crisis was a more ‚classical’ economic crisis with huge losses in industrial activity, while the 2020 crisis was more orientated towards losses in the service and tourism sector, which has less impact on cargo transport). The percentage decrease of goods transported on the Rhine was -8.4% in 2020, compared to -18.3% in 2009.
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  • One example of this resilience was container transport, amounting to 15 million tonnes on the Rhine in 2020, which was only a small difference compared to the value of 2019 (15.2 million tonnes). However, all cargo segments related to steel production (representing 25 % of Rhine transport), witnessed quite strong decreases (Iron ore: -14.2%; metals: -14.6%). The transport of sands, stones, gravel was reduced by 8.4%. Transport of agricultural products was a positive exception, reaching an increase in cargo transport on the Rhine in 2020 (+10.7%).
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  • The resilience of IWT (Inland Waterways Transport) during the pandemic is not only found when looking at Rhine transport, but also when looking at inland waterway transport in large European seaports whose hinterland is intensively linked to the Rhine region:
    – In the port of Rotterdam, inland waterway traffic reached a cargo turnover of 149.7 million tonnes (-2%).
    – In the port of Antwerp, the result was almost stable compared to 2019 (101 million tonnes in 2020, 101.3 million tonnes in 2019).
    – In the North Sea Port (Ghent, Terneuzen, Borsele, Flushing), the result was 55 million tonnes, representing a limited decrease of 6%.
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  • The development of transport prices or freight rates in 2020 followed overall the transport demand. After a drop in the first half year, dry cargo freight rates on the Rhine recovered towards the second half year. For liquid cargo freight rates, the reduction of oil prices in March triggered a temporary uptake of transport demand in April and May. This resulted in temporarily higher freight rates for gasoil and components. However, when this effect subsided, freight rates settled on much lower levels in the second half of the year.
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  • For cargo transport, the outlook is overall orientated towards recovery for 2021-2024, due to an expected increase of industry production in main source markets of IWT (steel and chemical production, refinery activity and mineral oil product demand, construction activity). However, the economic activity is expected to remain below end-of-2019 levels until 2022.
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  • Due to the consequences of the pandemic (distance rules, travel restrictions, etc.), passenger transport was halted completely in March 2020 and was subject to strong restrictions throughout 2020.
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  • The number of cruise vessel transits at the lock of Iffezheim on the Rhine went down from 2,929 in 2019 to 534 in 2020 (-82%). On other European rivers with considerable cruise traffic, the decrease was also severe: For the Danube at the German-Austrian border, figures dropped from 3,668 cruise ship transits to 324 (-91%). For the Moselle, there was a reduction from 1,536 vessel transits down to 469 (-70%) at the lock of Koblenz.
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  • Likewise, the day-trip passenger segment suffered heavily from the crisis in 2020. In Strasbourg, for instance, the number of passengers dropped by almost 80% in 2020 compared to 2019.
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  • For the outlook on passenger transport in 2021 and beyond, three main scenarios can be regarded as possible:
    1) a complete lifting of quarantine in all countries;
    2) easing or maintaining quarantine measures only in some countries;
    3) maintaining restrictions on passenger transport.
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  • Which of these scenarios will materialize, will depend primarily on the pandemic situation at the end of 2021 and in the year 2022. Even in case of a complete lifting of restrictions, it is however likely that the pandemic will continue to impact inland navigation cruises, particularly because the high degree of risk aversion of major client groups from oversea.
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    FIGURE 1: CARGO TRANSPORT ON THE TRADITIONAL RHINE (IN MILLION TONNES)


    Source: CCNR analysis based on Destatis
     

    FIGURE 2: CARGO TRANSPORT ON THE TRADITIONAL RHINE IN 2020 COMPARED TO 2019 (IN MILLION TONNES)


    Source: CCNR analysis based on Destatis
     

    TABLE 1: GOODS TRANSPORT ON THE TRADITIONAL RHINE IN TOTAL AND BY LARGEST GOODS SEGMENTS

    Goods segment201920202020/2019 in %
    Traditional Rhine in total174.1160.0-8.5
    Mineral oil products30.027.6-8.0
    Sands, stones, gravel28.626.2-8.4
    Chemicals20.119.3-3.7
    Iron ore21.618.5-14.2
    Agribulk, food products15.717.4+10.7
    Coal22.417.1-23.8
    Goods in containers15.215.0-1.4
    Metals9.38.0-14.6

    Source: CCNR analysis based on Destatis
     

    FIGURES 3, 4, 5: YEARLY NUMBER OF CRUISE SHIP TRANSITS ON DANUBE, RHINE AND MOSELLE




    Sources: German Waterway and Shipping Administration and Moselle Commission
    *Rhine = Upper Rhine (lock of Iffezheim)
    Danube = Upper Danube at the Austrian-German border (lock of Jochenstein)
    Moselle = lock of Koblenz