The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released its Review of Maritime Transport 2009, suggesting that the global economic downturn and financial crisis slowed growth in world seaborne trade, while an increase in the supply of vessels has kept freight rates depressed:
The year 2008 marked a major turning point in the history of the world economy and trade. A tightening of credit brought about by the global financial crisis and reduced demand for goods and shipping services lead to a decelerated growth in international seaborne trade in 2008.
At the same time, the supply of new vessels continued to grow. This growth was the result of vessel orders placed before the financial crisis, when the industry was still expecting continuing high growth rates in demand - which did not materialize.
As the world's shipping capacity continues to increase, the industry finds itself confronted with a surge of oversupply and tumbling freight rates.
These challenges are further compounded by other developments, including maritime security at sea and the need to address the climate change challenge.
The Review of Maritime Transport is an annual publication prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat. Over 80% of international trade in goods is carried by sea, and the Review provides valuable statistical information on this sector as well as other transport modes.
Key developments reported in this year's Review
• In 2008, world seaborne trade (goods loaded) increased by 3.6% to reach an estimated 8.17 billion tons.
• African countries experienced strong GDP growth in 2008 (5.1 per cent), the top performers being the resource-rich countries. As a whole the region's share of world trade remains at 2.7 per cent.
• In 2009, the total world merchant fleet had expanded by 6.7%, to reach 1.19 billion deadweight tons (dwt). The tonnage of oil tankers increased by 2.5% and that of bulk carriers by 7%. For the first time, the total tonnage on dry bulk carriers has exceeded the tonnage on oil tankers. Together these two types of ships represent 71.2% of total merchant fleet tonnage.
• The world fleet of fully cellular container ships continued to expand substantially in 2008: by the beginning of 2009 there were 4,638 ships, with a total capacity of 12.14 million TEUs - an increase of 8.5 per cent in the number of ships and 12.9 per cent in TEU capacity over the previous year.
• World container port throughput grew by an estimated 4% to reach 506 million TEUs in 2008. Mainland Chinese ports accounted for approximately 22.6 per cent of the total world container port throughput.
• Rail freight traffic measured in ton-kilometres in China, the Russian Federation and India showed growth rates of 3.5 per cent, 5 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively for 2008. However, rail freight traffic declined in Europe by 5 per cent. In both Europe and the United States, rail freight declined significantly in the early months of 2009 compared to the same period in the previous year.
• During 2009 a new convention titled the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, which will be known as the "Rotterdam Rules", opened for signature. The new Convention requires 20 ratifications to enter into force.
• Negotiations in 2009 at the World Trade Organization's Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation showed signs of a possible compromise on contentious issues of the Doha Round. Delegations are now aiming at finalizing a first draft text for a new WTO agreement on trade facilitation.
• The increasing number of piracy and armed robbery incidents against ships - particularly off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden - are leading to investigations on ways to find adequate response in various forums including the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations.