Port congestion in North Europe continues to worsen

Very high yard densities at North European container terminals and inland transport bottlenecks are aggravating port congestion problems in the trade between the Far East and North Europe.

Container ships deployed on this route currently need on average 101 days to complete a full round voyage. This means that they arrive on average 20 days late in China for their next round trip, forcing carriers to blank some sailings as there is no ship available.

These delays have further increased during recent months as Alphaliner reported average delays of 17 days in November last year and again 17 days last February.

Just one specific example of how much time ships can lose by waiting at sea: when the 20,170 teu MOL TRIUMPH left Qingdao on February 16 for THE Alliance ‘FE4’ loop, she was expected to arrive at Algeciras at March 25 and to leave North Europe again bound for the Far East in Antwerp on April 7.

The ship actually arrived at Algeciras on April 2 and called at Rotterdam (April 12-15), Antwerp (April 26-May 3) and Hamburg (May 14-18). The vessel is finally leaving North Europe this week already 41 days behind schedule.

The time needed to discharge and load at the three biggest European container ports was a total of 36 days between arrival at Rotterdam and departure from Hamburg. Such delays cannot be caught up by sailing eastbound at full speed.

Alphaliner has checked the round voyage duration for all vessels arriving back in Central China in the first half of this month (May 1—15) ex North Europe.

The best performance was for two CMA CGM ships arriving only one day late in Shanghai after however skipping their respective calls at Busan (23,112 teu CMA CGM CHAMPS ELYSEES — ‘FAL1’ Service) and Qingdao (17,292 teu APL MERION — ‘FAL3’ Service).

The average delay for all twelve OCEAN Alliance ships arriving in Central China in the first half of May stood at 17 days, which compares to 15 days last February and only nine days in November 2021.
The biggest delay (36 days) was for the 23,992 EVER ACE deployed on Evergreen’s ‘CEM’ Service (aka ‘NEU6’) as the ship lost precious time in Europe with calls at Rotterdam (discharging March 6-9), Felixstowe (March 13-16), Hamburg (March 24-28) and again Rotterdam (loading from March 29 until April 1).

Only four ships arrived in our review period in Central China for THE Alliance ex North Europe. We excluded the Europe – Asia-US West Coast ‘FP1’ and ‘FP2’ pendulum services of THE Alliance from our
review as their Asian focus is on Japan and South East Asia.

The average delay for these four arrivals stood at 32 days, which compares to 36 days in our two last surveys. We excluded however the 23,792 teu HMM ROTTERDAM arriving in Shanghai on 17 May (outside our review period) with a delay of 44 days. The ships of THE Alliance still have the longest voyage durations as they rigorously stick to their schedules without skipping any ports.

The 2M-partners Maersk and MSC also suffer from increasing waiting times in Europe as their average voyage delays increased from 15 days last November and February to 19 days.

A spokesman for one of the carriers confirmed that the problems are primarily occurring in European ports. A lack of port labour and a shortage of truckers has led to increased dwell times for import containers in Europe. As the big terminals get choked up with boxes, ships have to wait at anchorage.
Contrary to some recent media reports, the lockdowns in Shanghai have not worsened the situation. The port of Shanghai has remained operational and export volumes to Europe have actually dropped due
to less cargo being delivered to the terminals.

A potential export boost for Chinese exports to Europe after the lockdowns could however add unwanted extra pressure on the North European port and terminal systems once again this summer.

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