Port sets July record on container volumes



• 500 more TEUs processed compared to pre-COVID economy

• First Back to School for two years, FDI and tourism drive ‘spike’

• Vehicles down one-third but APD back to pre-pandemic figures


Tribune Business Editor


Nassau’s commercial shipping port set a July record after container imports increased by more than 20 percent with its top executive yesterday confirming business volumes have rebounded to pre-COVID levels.

Dion Bethell, Arawak Port Development Company’s (APD) president and chief financial officer, told Tribune Business three factors had combined to drive the “spike” which produced the best-ever July in the BISX-listed company’s history for twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) import volumes.

Besides higher-than-normal hotel occupancies, which raised demand for groceries and other consumable imports, he added that the first full Back-to-School shopping season for three years - and construction driven by ongoing foreign direct investment (FDI) projects - were also responsible for producing the 6,541 TEUs that crossed APD’s bulkhead in July 2022.

This, according to APD data, represented a near-1,100 or 20 percent year-over-year increase compared to July 2021’s 5,443 TEUS. The latter figure was generated as cruise tourism restarted, and the economy continued to free itself from previous COVID restrictions, but July 2022’s performance exceeded all pre-pandemic years.

TEU volumes for the month were 8.2 percent or nearly 500 ahead of the 6,046 containers imported via APD in 2019, the last pre-COVID year, and 4.5 percent or 289 up on the previous July record of 6,262, which was set some eight years ago in 2014.

Mr Bethell yesterday said the July momentum had carried over into August, although he did not have official figures yet for that month. He added that, despite the cost of living crisis and associated inflationary pressures, APD’s figures show the Bahamian economy’s post-COVID revival is sustaining with container volumes now back at pre-pandemic levels.

While difficult to determine if summer’s cargo volumes will be maintained through September and October, when they traditionally drop-off due to reduced tourism numbers, the APD chief nevertheless forecast that imports associated with the 2022 Christmas holidays will match pre-COVID numbers.

Disclosing that the supply chain backlogs and bottlenecks appear to be easing, especially for goods sourced from more distant markets such as China and Europe, Mr Bethell said one sector that has yet to fully recover from COVID is vehicle imports. While these had risen to around 10,000 during APD’s 2022 financial year, which closed at end-June, he added that they remain down on pre-COVID volumes that averaged around 15,000 per year.

Confirming that July was a “record” month for TEU imports, Mr Bethell told Tribune Business: “Things are looking very good. As you have seen from our numbers, July has been one of our strongest months since COVID kicked in, where TEU volumes were much higher than they normally are.

“We’ve been trending back to pre-COVID volumes, in July in particular, and it will impact our unofficial August numbers. We haven’t seen these types of volume since COVID-19. When you look at everything for the year-to-date, the trailing 12 months compared to the trailing 12 months pre-COVID, yes, we’re back at pre-COVID levels. If we excluded the construction-related project cargo from that number, we would be very close to pre-COVID volumes.”

TEU container imports for June were also up on pre-COVID numbers, standing at 5,625 - a figure that was 5.4 percent or 287 ahead of 2019, the last full year before the pandemic struck.

APD had been narrowing the gap to pre-COVID business volumes for some time, with TEU imports for April and May both down by around 100 compared to 2019 data. July’s record numbers thus represent a major early 2023 boost for the port operator, as it is the first month of its new financial year.

The Arawak Cay-based facility, as New Providence’s major commercial shipping port through which approximately 90 percent of the city’s physical goods imports are received, represents a decent indicator of the economy’s strength and level of activity, as well as consumer demand. The latest TEU data thus indicates consumption continues to increase, particularly in the tourism and construction industries, as well as in the local retail economy.

Explaining APD’s record July, Mr Bethell told this newspaper: “It’s a combination of things that just all contributed to the spike or increase in volumes for July. Our stopover visitor numbers were extremely high, with occupancy levels at Baha Mar, the Pointe, Atlantis and Sandals much higher than in previous years that same month.

“We’ve seen a lot of people taking vacations coming to our shores, and have to meet the demand and needs of the hotels to supply their guests with grocery items and consumables.” He added that construction project-related cargo had also increased as developments such as GoldWynn, the Nassau Cruise Port, US Embassy and others completed their site work and moved to erect the “super structure” or physical buildings required.

And, with the “tremendous amount of uncertainty” over school openings now eased following two pandemic-interrupted years, Mr Bethell added: “A lot of merchants imported in anticipation of schools opening back up. A lot of stores started to order those type of supplies two months or so ahead of time. Whether it’s books, pens, uniforms, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in volume to get ready for that.”

Asked whether July’s record trend can be sustained, he replied: “September often-times is a very slow month. It’s early yet to determine if those volumes will maintain, but as we move into the winter season, which is the latter part of October and early November, in anticipation for the holidays we expect those volumes will go back to pre-COVID historical volumes. We wait in anticipation to see if everything holds.”

Mr Bethell said new and used vehicle imports passing through the Nassau Container Port are increasing despite being behind pre-pandemic numbers, rising by almost 15 percent year-over-year during the 2022 financial year. “The vehicle volumes are definitely much higher than they what they were during COVID,” he told Tribune Business.

“We’re still off. For 2022 we had about 10,000 vehicles, and in 2021, at the height of the pandemic, we had about 8,700. Pre-COVID we were very close to 15,000 vehicles. We’ve started to see that rising, and are trending back, moving in a positive direction.”

Mr Bethell said importers and shippers had also reported that while the supply chain remains “challenging”, goods from more distant markets such as Asia and Europe are starting to arrive on a more timely basis. “All the indications from importers are that while they have yet to get it to where they would like it to be, it is much better than what it was,” he added.

With site work at many construction projects completed during 2021, the APD chief said bulk imports for 2022 were down year-over-year although developments such as Aqualina on Cable Beach were still in this phase.


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