LONDON: War and sanctions are taking an increasing toll on Syria’s vital sea-borne trade, with fewer vessels calling at its cargo ports as ship-owners shy away from the risks associated with a conflict now in its third year.
The slowdown in deliveries of food and other essentials is piling pressure on the government of President Bashar Al Assad, which is struggling to keep commercial supply lines open.
Syria has failed for some time to procure strategic commodities such as wheat, sugar and rice through international tenders due to the civil war and an associated financing crunch. Shipping volumes have been hit despite the country’s ports being open and operational, sources familiar with matter say.
“Assad has support from his allies such as Russia and the regime continues to cling on. At the same time, the conflict is having an effect on supply lines which includes everything from commodities and goods,” said Alan Fraser of security firm AKE.
“They are struggling on the shipping side, which is why they have tried to keep land corridors open.”
Ship-tracking data from maritime analytics firm Windward shows that the number of ships — dry bulk, container and general cargo vessels - calling at the ports of Tartous and Latakia has fallen since the start of the year.
Port calls made by dry bulk vessels have fallen from a peak of 108 in March to just 20 in September. Similarly, 120 general cargo vessels made port visits in March, falling to 52 in September, the data shows.
“Although sanctions have had an impact on Syrian trade, the dangers to inland transport may also curtail trade into Syrian ports,” a shipping industry source said.
“Ship tracking shows the major ports are receiving only four or five ships a day, nearly all of which are small local general cargo vessels.”
Many of the vessels visiting Syrian ports are among the oldest in the global fleet, averaging 28 years old, the data shows, which sources say reflects the caution bigger lines have about sending more modern ships in.
The threat of Western attacks has faded as Assad has agreed to destroy his chemical arsenal, but “Syria is still not worth the hassle for many owners. You need to factor in potentially high-risk trade,” a European ship owner said.
Earlier this year, Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services pulled out of operating the Tartous container port because of the war.