Busy port of Antwerp
© Rudmer Zwerver

Hapag-Lloyd has suspended its Antwerp barge services until July amidst worsening terminal congestion, but the Belgian hub has sought to reassure the sector further cancellations are not coming.

The German carrier announced that all shipments moving via barge would be stopped until 30 June, a decision that coincided with the latest update from barge operator Contargo, which noted that its wait times at Antwerp had jumped from 33 hours at the end of May to 46 hours today.

In an operational update, Hapag said it would re-evaluate “at the end of June” after low waters and 16 hours of industrial action compounded already “dire” terminal congestion.

However, a Port of Antwerp spokesperson rejected suggestions that more operators may have decided to suspend inland water activities in a push to reduce congestion that has plagued North Europe’s deep-sea terminals.

“It is not correct that all barge services in Antwerp are cancelled until the end of June,” the spokesperson told The Loadstar.

“It seems that this one carrier has decided to stop this particular extra barge service. But in the overall amount of shipping companies, transports, and barge services, this is a measure with very limited impact,

“And it definitely does not mean that all barge services into Antwerp are cancelled – on the contrary.”

A local source said they would be surprised if “all” services were cancelled but added they expected to see congestion worsen in coming months and barge users further affected as terminal operators contend with an “avalanche” of containers out of China.

This, sources contended, would wipe out “any hopes of a swift resolution” to the congestion and leave shippers scratching for solutions.

Speaking to The Loadstar last week, DP World vice president of inland logistics for Europe, Rob Harrison, said he was urging shippers to buy into the notion of “synchromodality”, with shippers entrusting mode of transport to the terminal operator.

Others, including barge consultant Gunther Ginckels of SeasC4U, have promoted this as the most likely fix for the “years of delays”.

Mr Harrison said that while the idea was not “unique” to DP World, he was prepared to see it built to scale but warned its success would be dependent on a willingness to be “agnostic” about the terminal and transport modes used.

A source argued synchromodality was not just one way out of the years of congestion and delay experienced along North Europe’s inland waterways, it was “the only way”.

They added: “You can play around with technology but that will not address the issue on the ground and that is that too many barges are flowing half full. Those with their eyes on the situation need to be able to react to the live situation, synchromodality offers that.”

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