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Pecém handled 70% more cargo between Brazilian ports

Cabotage has been an option for companies that had high road freight costs in the last year, after the definition of a fixed freight rate for the shipment of goods by trucks

By Bruno Cabral / Benes

In 2018, the Port of Pecém, which since October has concentrated cabotage operations in Ceará, handled 220,422 20-foot containers. PHOTO: Natinho Rodrigues.

After the disruption caused by the truck drivers' strike in May of last year and the road freight tariffs, as a result of the shutdown, some companies started to use cabotage (navigation between ports in the same country) to reduce costs of sending and receiving goods. In some cases, depending on distance, the transport by truck became economically unfeasible, mainly for products with lower added value.

In 2018, the port of Pecém, which has been concentrating cabotage operations in Ceará since October, grew by 70% compared to 2017, handling 220,422 20-foot containers. In 2017, the growth had been 34% compared to 2016. In all, 95,120 containers were shipped at Pecém to other Brazilian ports, 52% more than in 2017. Landings totaled 125,302 units, 88% higher than in 2017.

"With freight tariff, many companies chose to seek cabotage because of the price. And the lower the added value, the greater the propensity of road freight to become unfeasible," says Larry Carvalho, a specialist in maritime law and partner at Promare Consulting. According to him, there was growth in the shipment of products such as fruit and appliances, which were previously sent by truck. "Cabotage was already growing at around 10% a year, but last year it grew even more because of the strike".

Aço Cearense (Ceará Steel), for example, was already planning to intensify the use of cabotage at the beginning of 2018, but after the truckers' strike and the freight tariff, the company accelerated this process and recorded a 50% growth in the volume handled by cabotage compared to 2017.

"The shipment of finished products to destinations in the South and Southeast of the country, ended up being unfeasible by land", says Erike Mendes, manager of logistics of Aço Cearense. The company which already sent products by cabotage to Manaus and Roraima, started shipping them to the ports of Santos (SP) and Itajaí (SC). "The volume sent by cabotage grew a lot in 2018, especially since August," says Mendes. "We continue with the road transport, but the farther the destination of the cargo, the more expensive is the road, which may make the shipment unfeasible."

Historically, the cost of sea freight is about 20% lower than the road, and after the freight tariffs, it became 30% lower, points out Romulo Holland, export analyst of the Customs Fleet. "Cabotage is advantageous for those who need to move a large quantity of goods and is much less bureaucratic than one might think. In addition, there is the issue of security", she says. "The tendency is that, more and more, cabotage is used for long distances and the road transport for short and medium distances".


Last year, more than one million 20-foot containers were handled between ports on the Brazilian coast, according to the Brazilian Association of Cabotage Shipowners (Abac). Even so, cabotage freight accounts for only 11% of cargo handling between all means of transportation.

In the first half of the year, before the shutdown, volumes carried by cabotage grew 13.5% in relation to the previous year. But after the strike, the annual rate of expansion rose to 15.6% until September, points out Abac.

Aliança, the largest cabotage shipping company, had a 28% increase in the volume of cargo from the first to the second half of 2018. The company's initial forecast was to increase the volume of cargo carried in 2018 by 8% compared to the previous year. At the end, the advance was 16%. Although the company has operated since 1999, for the first time in 2018, it transported watermelon, melon, orange and tangerine from São Paulo to Manaus in refrigerated containers.


The most popular cabotage routes are those from the North and Northeast to the South and Southeast. Before the price scale, the transport of cargo in trucks from the North and Northeast to the South and Southeast was cheap because it was about return freight. As the country's production center is in the southern and southeastern states, the trucks returned practically empty from the north and northeast. Because of this, the value of this freight on this route was low. But with the obligatory nature of the table, the return freight ceased to exist and the North and Northeast companies had to look for economic outlets.

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