Port operations defy pandemic, trade downturn

Published December 28, 2020, 8:00 AM

by Emmie V. Abadilla


The maritime sector handles 90 percent of global trade. No wonder, hell broke loose when most international borders slammed shut in March. Port operators wrestled with congestion although the ports stayed open.

“Throughout these lockdowns, all of our ports – without exception –continued 24/7,” said the country’s biggest port operator, International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI)  Chairman Enrique K. Razon, Jr. 

ICTSI Chairman and President Enrique K. Razon, Jr.

Still, the trade slack due to the global health crisis, along with lockdown restrictions, pulled down ICTSI’s volumes by  two percent to 7,426,307 TEUs in the first nine months of this year and revenues from port operations flattened at $1.1 billion.

The port operator earned $182.6 million, $2.3 million lower than the same period last year, due to higher interest on concession rights payable and COVID-19 related expenses.

However, in the third quarter,  ICTSI netted $69.2 million earnings, 23 percent higher, as revenue from port operations increased 7 percent to $379.3 million.

The operator managed its costs to  lessen the adverse effects of the pandemic, cutting its capex budget from $270 million to $160 million and slashing operating cost budget by 11 per cent across the board.

However, ICTSI already spent $60 million at the time of the pandemic and continued to spend on upgrades of its terminals as well as on technology infrastructure in the midst of adversity.

For the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), the pandemic only hastened digital transformation.

PPA shifted to  online unified passenger ticketing system,  automated payment scheme as well as automated cargo payment, smack in the middle of the global health crisis.

“Digital technology is the future and the PPA makes sure we are at par with our foreign counterparts and trading partners,” declared General Manager Jay Daniel R. Santiago. 

The PPA launched its Electronic Payment Portal (EPP) to digitize collection of port charges five months into the lockdown.

“We are really keen on automating our collection of port charges to reduce face-to-face transaction,” he explained.

Next year, the PPA with roll out its Unified Electronic Ticketing System in all ports to centralizes booking and payment of passenger tickets.

This should reduce human-to-human transactions to comply with the ‘new normal’ and make sea travel safer as it prevents overbooking and overloading.