Ports struggle to clear congestion ahead of peak

The re-opening of Shanghai after its extended COVID lockdown has not triggered the surge of sea freight that had been feared, but while volumes softened as a consequence, many UK and North European ports are still struggling with congestion.

High yard densities at container terminals and inland transport bottlenecks continue to aggravate port congestion problems, which are exacerbated by lack of port labour and shortage of truck drivers, that lead to increased dwell times for import containers.

Container ships deployed on the Asia-North Europe trade are still massively delayed to complete voyages, arriving in Europe 10 days late and up to 20 days late in China for their next round trip, forcing carriers to blank some sailings as there are no vessels available.

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, largely as a result of a surge in ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) from Asia. Such delays cannot be caught up by sailing back to Asia at full speed.

Delays for feeder vessels and inland waterway operators have been particularly bad, with delays at Rotterdam climbing from 66 hours to 89, with Antwerp’s hovering at the 37-hour mark, but delays in excess of a week are commonplace.

Several COVID infections have been reported within the Rotterdam workforce, with less gangs being deployed and the start of the school holidays next week will put operational capability under further pressure.

Long dwell times for transshipment and import cargo continue and off yard storage for custom blocked Russian cargo and long stay imports is now being fully utilised, with no empty containers being accepted until further notice, as a yard protection measure. Regular feeder calls in-between main liners are necessary to cope with the high yard utilisation.

The congestion in Antwerp and Rotterdam is impacting inland situation, with less trucking capacity – approximately 50% of usual transport capacity.

Yard utilisation stands at 90% in Hamburg and operations have been severely impacted by strikes and low productivity due to labour shortages, resulting in extreme waiting times for vessels.

Labour disputes are impacting French ports too and while train capacities are OK, local haulage is full at Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon and Gevrey for up to two weeks.

We are closely monitoring the situation throughout all European ports. You may think that delay and congestion in a European port does not have impact on your container movements, but it does. The consequences are delays for UK vessel calls and and extended overall transit time.

Fracht try to work with the most reliable partner shipping lines, but with only 19% on-time reliability on the Asia to Europe trades (across all carriers) as reported in the trade press in 2022, this is not an easy task.
We issue regular market reports, including comprehensive statistics and we are happy to share these with our clients for transparency and visibility, on the current market situation and conditions. If you would like to receive this report please email your usual contact or call Grant Liddell who will be delighted to discuss and provide the detailed document.

To learn how we can help you avoid European/UK disruption and port congestion, please get in touch with our sea freight director, Andy Smith, who can advise on the best solutions for your ocean supply chain.