Barge ship transporting containers in the Port of Antwerp
Photo: © VanderWolfImages |

Congestion along Antwerp and Rotterdam’s inland waterways has surged to its highest peak in several years, leaving users stranded.

Wait times at Antwerp more than doubled over the past week, from 44 hours to 94, according to the latest figures from Contargo, while congestion at Rotterdam was up by more than 50%, to 128 hours.

Contargo failed to respond for requests for comment, but serious delays have become “part and parcel” of the environment, according to one source, for those operating along Northern Europe’s waterways for more than half a decade.

And while Rotterdam has experienced far more severe congestion than 128 hours in that period, it has been rare for both it and Antwerp to be hit at the same time.

Sources have repeatedly told The Loadstar the main cause of delays was linked to the onset of ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) and failures of coordination between stakeholders.

SeasC4U’s Gunther Ginckels warned that increasing container capacity at the largest European ports without factoring-in the impact on inland activity would exacerbate what he and others have described as a “crisis” for the sector.

“What is needed is all stakeholders to share vital information so that goods can move faster, more efficiently and in synchro-modality,” Mr Ginckels told The Loadstar.

“Synchro-modality, in essence, sees the terminal operators acting as the spider in the web, and so on the basis of information provided by stakeholders they offer a product which brings the box from seagoing vessel stowage position to final destination. They determine transport mode, which can be a combination of road, rail and/or inland shipping, and the time the goods are expected at their destination.”

Mr Ginckels also called for “concession coupling”, based on a 50/20/30 rule, iwhere 50% of capacity moves by barge, 20% by rail and 30% by road, requiring prioritising quay capacity, while ensuring sufficiently frequent rail services and ample gate spaces for trucking.

Over the past 12 months, Antwerp has managed to reduce congestion, keeping it hovering between a day and a day-and-a-half, but Rotterdam’s has remained consistently severe.

Another source suggested the problem was that ECT Rotterdam had “lost control over yard management”, which led to barges being stood for more than a week, and at least one instance of a fully loaded barge waiting 10 days.

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