© Khunaspix Dreamstime.

Barge operators are suffering delays of between three and four days at some Antwerp and Rotterdam container terminals.

And feeder lines complain of lengthening waits for their vessels to be handled at ECT facilities in Rotterdam.

In a customer notice last week, Duisburg-headquartered Contargo said its barges were waiting 92 hours for processing in Rotterdam and experiencing delays of up to 72 hours in Antwerp.

The company said the delays were causing “serious bottlenecks” in the supply chain and increasing charter hire costs for both its existing fleet and additional tonnage to bridge the waiting times.

Contargo warned that it would seek to pass these extra costs on to its customers in the form of a congestion charge “in the near future”.

One major feeder operator that serves the UK’s east coast and Ireland from Rotterdam said it was becoming “impossible” to run a schedule with the delays being experienced at the port, and said it was also considering imposing a congestion charge.

The feeder line executive and Contargo also complained about poor communication at Rotterdam, making it “very difficult to predict how long vessels will have to remain in port”, according to the barge operator.

The congestion at the Benelux container hubs is a worry for shippers and service providers alike, not least as it is happening when carriers have blanked a number of sailings from Asia due to lack of demand after Chinese New Year.

Indeed, it brings back the spectre of the gridlocked North European container terminals of last year, when the supply chain was seriously disrupted.

A survey by The Loadstar found that the North European container hubs were recording strong growth, with several terminals operating at high utilisation levels, despite it still being the so-called low season.

A Port of Rotterdam spokesman told The Loadstar it was seeing the 6% year-on-year growth from 2014 continue into the first two months of this year, but he maintained that the measures that ECT was undertaking would mean it would be able to handle the growing volumes.

ECT public affairs officer Rob Bagchus confirmed it was working in close co-operation with the port to overcome the delays – “together with all stakeholders involved to make optimum use of the available capacity” and “to establish the necessary processes and procedures that will enable efficient handling of cargo at peak moments”.

The Rotterdam spokesman added: “We realise that parties may have to adapt the way they’re doing business to this situation, but that’s the best alternative. It’s better, for instance, to have a minimum call size for inland barges than to have long waiting times.

He continued: “Compared with last year, we’re taking measures much earlier in the process and much attention is being paid to communication with all parties involved.”

This last statement rather contradicts the experience of Contargo and the feeder operator, but the willingness of the port and the terminal to admit to the problem at an early stage suggests lessons have been learned from last year.

Interestingly, no mention was made by either the port or ECT that the impact of much bigger ships by carriers and their tardy timekeeping – according to analysts liner schedules plunged to an on-time reliability level of just over 50% in January – had contributed to the congestion by failing to make assigned berthing windows.

At the time of writing, Antwerp had not responded to The Loadstar’s questions, but at Hamburg – which was badly affected by terminal congestion last year – a spokesman for the port’s marketing organisation said “at the moment we do not see any congestion in our port”.

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.
  • Jerry McCormick

    March 18, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    The main problem is the un-willingness of the ECT-management to tackle the issue hands on. Obvioulsy the former CEO Jan Westerhoud has given in his campaign against RGW and APMT2 a lot of fuel to unions and as ECT can only be certain that a lot of their customers will leave to the new terminals the investments in equipment and manpower are almost zero. They cut costs to a level where their terminals will lose all their business. Too late to wake up now ! Good luck for their competitors.

  • Andy Lane

    March 19, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Some interesting statement and observations here.

    First of all, 6% growth can not be considered as either strong or a surprise.

    In 2014, Rotterdam as a port produced an average quay side through-put of 164,000 TEU/QC. Why is that significant and what does it mean?

    Well, 365 days x 24 hours makes 8,760 hours per QC of availability. If those cranes are producing on average 25 MPH when they are deployed and working, then they are deployed only 47% of all possible hours.

    164,000 / ((365*24)*47%) / 1.6 (TEU Factor) = 25

    A crane working at 25 MPH when deployed is running at about 71% efficiency – compared to a potential of a modest 35.

    So Rotterdam is 47% utilised and operating at 71% – not sure how “congestion” can exist in practice. What am I missing?

  • Mike Wackett

    March 19, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Thanks Jerry and you make some good points Andy.
    Agree that we are missing something here as to the real cause of the congestion @ ECT.
    But surprised that Contargo’s barges are also experiencing significant delays at Antwerp, but feeders apparently not suffering.
    Still looking for a response from the port authority.