Omani mineral exports slump as pandemic hits key markets

Port of Salalah reported an 11 per cent decline in volumes handled at its General Cargo Terminal (GCT), which fell to 7.308 million tons during the first half of this year, down from 8.191 million tons during the corresponding period of 2019 – a drop primarily atttributable to shrinking demand for bulk minerals in key Asian markets impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Salalah is the Sultanate’s principal export gateway for Omani gypsum and limestone, the bulk of which are shipped to India as raw materials for its prolific cement and steel industries.

“The decline in general cargo volumes in the first six months of 2020 is mainly due to lower gypsum and limestone exports as a result of lower demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This in turn contributed to a fall of overall revenue from operations compared to the same period in 2019,” Shaikh Braik Musallam al Amri, Deputy Chairman, stated in the Directors’ report for the six months ended June 30, 2020.

Dry bulk cargoes, comprising primarily limestone, gypsum and cement, represent the lion’s share of commodities handled at the General Cargo Terminal. While throughput levels of liquid bulk, bagged commodities, and other general cargoes broadened mirrored trends in H1 2019, dry bulk component of the commodity mix slumped to 5.783 million tons this year, down from 6.684 million tons during the same period of 2019.

However, an uptick in throughput volumes is anticipated in the third quarter of this year, aided in part by efforts to achieve a diversified cargo mix as well as to target new markets, according to the port.

“New cargoes and customers have mitigated part of the revenue loss from the drop in aggregate volumes. However, focus continues to be on customer diversification with the management continuing to engage customers for securing additional business to offset volume de-growth of existing customers. We are forecasting a slow recovery of volume in Q3, 2020 and a further improvement in Q4. However our ability to handle the volume in view of the impact of the pandemic remains a concern,” the Deputy Chairman further noted.

Container volumes, on the other hand, grew 13 per cent to 2.199 million TEUs during the first half of this year, compared to 1.941 million TEUs for the corresponding period of 2019.

“The growth of the container volumes compared to the first six months of 2019 is explained by the fact that the container terminal operations had not yet recovered from the impact of the cyclone in the first months of 2019,” the port added.