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One little-reported side effect of the congestion crisis gripping North Europe’s ports is its impact on local greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The difficulties for deepsea container lines in loading and unloading cargo at the largest hub port, and the obstacles to shippers and forwarders collecting and delivering cargo, have been well documented.

One answer for carriers has been to unload European imports at secondary ports, where berth and yard congestion levels are lower and the vessel can turn around quicker.

However, an unintended consequence of this could be a significant increase in GHG emissions, due to much more trucking being required.

To assess this potential impact, The Loadstar looked at the Searoutes freight transport emissions database – and we are grateful to Searoutes’ VP of customer success, Paul Canessa, for double-checking our calculations.

For example, in one of its latest customer advisories to North European shippers, Maersk suggested that for Rotterdam-bound boxes, it was “assessing if redirecting to nearby facilities, such as Gdansk, Wilhelmshaven or Zeebrugge, could speed up delivery/pick-up and reduce the impact on your business”.

According to Searoutes, each truck carrying one container from Gdansk to Rotterdam – travelling 1,050 km and taking 16 hours – would emit 1.31 tonnes of CO2. For 100 teu thus diverted, the extra carbon emissions would be 131 tonnes. In the case of Antwerp, Maersk suggested either Wilhelmshaven or Zeebrugge as alternates – and, of course, for  all alternative ports there is the option of rail.

The table below shows the extra CO2 emissions for trucks and trains per teu carried.

Of course, in all of the above scenarios, emissions would be lower if the boxes could simply be feedered to the original destination ports, but given berth congestion levels, this option has been discounted.

In addition, we do not yet know how many boxes will be diverted – however, it is worth remembering that, during the worst days of Felixstowe’s 2021 congestion crisis, as much as 5,000 teu per call was being diverted to Zeebrugge by some carriers.

So, if some 5,000 containers needed to be trucked from Gdansk to Rotterdam, the additional emissions would be 3,200 to 6,200 tonnes of CO2, depending on the mix of 20ft and 40ft units.

Furthermore, there are other provisos – the distances are to the original port out-gate, whereas many of the boxes will have end destinations hundreds of miles away. And it may well be that unloading at Gdansk produces an overall net reduction on port-consignee emissions for an importer in South Germany or Central Europe.

Another consideration is that this calculation is just for Maersk and, by extension its 2M partner, MSC. The two other deepsea alliances, we assume, are looking to offer similar alternatives to customers, so in terms of extra emissions caused by congestion, we should treble the figure above, to 3,600 to 18,600 tonnes of extra CO2 emitted… every week.

A further point to make is that this is in no way a criticism of Maersk or any of the carriers – offering alternative solutions is in the job description of a logistics service provider. This is simply to illustrate how potentially grave the environmental costs of port congestion could be.



Mode Distance (km) Transit Time CO2 per teu
Truck 658 16 hours 30 mins 1.31 tonnes
Train 537 1 day 9 hours 190 kg



Mode Distance (km) Transit Time CO2 per teu
Truck 208 5 hours 401kg
Train 254 16 hours 80 kg



Mode Distance (km) Transit Time CO2 per teu
Truck 93 2 hours 40 179 kg
Train 134 8 hours 20 40 kg



Mode Distance (km) Transit Time CO2 per teu
Truck 238 5 hours 30 458 kg
Train 195 12 hours 60 kg



Mode Distance (km) Transit Time CO2 per teu
Truck 51 1 hours 30 99 kg
Train 100 6 hours 20 30 kg

For more analysis of European port congestion, listen to this clip from the latest Loadstar Podcast with Drewry’s Eleanor Hadland.


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