Friday, 8 August 2014

Summer of discontent for shippers as late boxships pressure Europe’s crowded ports

APMT Rotterdam Netherlands
Shippers are enduring a summer of discontent as Europe’s container supply chain is stretched by a combination of tardy schedule reliability from ocean carriers and acute congestion at hub ports.
Container line schedule integrity has become a thing of the past on the Asia-Europe tradelane, with carriers believing – mostly mistakenly – that shippers are only interested in one thing: price.
Indeed, hardly anybody batted an eyelid as SeaIntel’s recent schedule reliability review found that the on-time performance of the six-member G6 alliance had slumped to an abysmal 41%.
Moreover, even long-time schedule reliability leader Maersk Line seems to have lost momentum, stating only that in future it intends to figure in the top tier in the reliability league it regularly led.
The comment from the Danish carrier was made in response to the ill-fated P3 Network, which had pitted Maersk with CMA CGM’s average reliability record and MSC’s consistently very poor on-time record.
And with the resubmitted 2M alliance proposal combining the best in class with the worst of MSC, the impression is that schedule integrity and the premium Daily Maersk product is no longer a priority. Driving down unit costs in a commoditised market is king, which does not go hand in hand with keeping a ship on schedule.
But once in port the alliances expect congestion-free, speedy turnaround of their ships – even though the new mega-vessels often mean a 30% increase in container exchanges.
However, when crane production levels at the hub fall below par – regardless of whether the ship has made its agreed berthing window – carriers are quick to seek alternative ports and facilities which allow them to discharge and load their vessels without delay.
With a year-on-year 8% cargo growth in Asian imports, bigger ships being phased-in and schedules becoming increasing flexible, Europe’s three major hub ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg have, unsurprisingly, struggled to cope with throughput in the past few months.
Rotterdam will lose at least four calls of the G6 Loop 4 to Antwerp due to congestion at ECT, which was not helped by the terminal’s refurbishment programme.
Hapag-Lloyd’s 13,169teu Ludwigshafen Express will be the first G6 Loop 4 ship to be diverted to Antwerp, scheduled to arrive at PSA Duerganck Terminal on 14 August – although given the line’s reliability figures, it remains to be seen whether it will arrive on time.
Meanwhile, feeder and barge services, as well as truck and rail, will all need to be reprogrammed in the short timeframe and, not least, customs clearance must be performed to enable boxes to move off the quay.
Unfortunately for Rotterdam shippers and service providers, claims for compensation for extra costs and delays are unlikely to win over carriers, which will claim force majeure.
Hamburg, which has suffered congestion since the start of the year, as reported by The Loadstar, will from the middle of August be subject to a €80-per-container truck surcharge from Maersk, as a result of the backlog spreading from the terminal yards onto the city’s roads.
“Due to severe traffic disruption to the port of Hamburg, all trucking has been heavily impacted by congestion and increased waiting times,” the carrier advised customers yesterday.

ECT Delta TerminalECT Delta Terminal
The Port of Rotterdam Authority is taking measures to eliminate congestion at the ECT Delta Terminal and the Euromax Terminal.
“Inland waterway vessels and feeder vessels have been experiencing delays at these terminals for some time,” notes the port authority today.
It blames the congestion on large containerships arriving outside their scheduled times, and thus disrupting hundreds of hinterland movements. For instance, when a large vessel loads and unloads approximately 10,000 TEUs during its port call, these containers are transported to and from the port by 1,560 trucks, 32 inland waterway vessels, 10 feeder ships and 19 trains.
To ease congestion, the Port of Rotterdam Authority detailed three measures this Thursday:
- Some inland waterway vessels transporting smaller numbers of containers will be handled at the Rotterdam Container Terminal (RCT), next to the Delta Terminal. ECT will decide which ships will be handled by RCT. And RCT will find a berth, unload the boxes and organise the overland transport to the Delta Terminal.
- Containers will be bundled in the Port of Moerdijk (MCT) and inland waterway vessels with a very high capacity will shuttle between Moerdijk and the Maasvlakte.
- Inland shipping containers, and if necessary road containers, will be bundled at the Uniport Terminal in the Waalhaven area.
The first two measures have been implemented and can be further scaled up, while details for the third one are being worked out.
The port authority hopes that these actions will help unburden the water side of the Delta Terminal and allow for the quay at the Maasvlakte to be used more efficiently.

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