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Antwerp is the latest North European box port to suffer from the knock-on effect of terminal and quay congestion, with vessel berthing waiting times now extending to five days at the Belgium hub.
But there are also some indications that congestion at container hubs in North Europe, which have been plagued by supply chain issues this year and especially since the unblocking of the Suez Canal at the end of March, is set to improve over the next month.
In the meantime, however, schedule delays have prompted the 2M alliance partners Maersk and MSC to temporarily omit the Antwerp call on their AE55 / Griffin loop for a period of six weeks, starting from this week’s sailing from China of the 23,936 teu MSC Diletta.
The 2M partners said last week that the service of the loop would “slide” by one week from week 29 to week 30 “in response to the current challenging market situation generating congestion and schedule delays”.
Maersk said that it had decided to skip the Antwerp call on its AE55 string due to “the high yard density and exceptional waiting time for our vessels”.
MSC said that landside and berth congestion at Antwerp was “impacting schedule reliability and causing delays to shipments”.
The AE55 / Griffin schedule will for the period include a call at Le Havre instead, albeit the French hub will lose its scheduled call on the 2M’s AE6 / Lion service for the duration.
However, both Maersk and MSC describe the Le Havre call as an “inducement call”, meaning that the 2M partners could still decide not to call if there is insufficient freight to make it economically viable or if operational delays are likely.
For the six-week period the North Europe schedule of the AE55 / Griffin service will be: Rotterdam – Le Havre – Felixstowe in place of the published itinerary of Rotterdam – Antwerp – Felixstowe.
The vessel-sharing partners said that cargo booked for Antwerp would be consolidated onto the AE6 / Lion loop.
However, the carriers could be obliged to discharge some Antwerp containers at Rotterdam from the AE55 / Griffin call, due to continued high demand and insufficient allocation on the alternative call, which will add to the Dutch port’s current high yard density and potentially delay the delivery of containers.
Nevertheless, according to Maersk the situation at North Europe’s container hubs is improving.
In its port operations update last week, the carrier advised that there were currently no vessel berthing delays to report at its hubs of Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Felixstowe or Gdansk.
In Rotterdam, Maersk reported vessel berthing delays of 1 – 2 days, while Antwerp was said to be at 3 – 5 days.
The carrier was positive about the outlook for the container terminals. “Whilst the situation remains fluid, we expect current conditions in the North European ports to improve over the coming 30 days,” said Maersk.
Maersk’s AE55 loop was originally described by the carrier as a ‘sweeper’ service, compensating for the 2M’s suspension of its AE2 / Swan string.
Deploying smaller tonnage, the service was upgraded from a fortnightly to a weekly offering last August.
The average size of the vessels deployed on the AE55 / Griffin loop is 16,473 teu according to eeSea data.