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One of the key reasons Barcelona appears to be suffering greater levels of congestion than many regional competitors is a near-toxic mix of increased transhipment traffic on top of its role as a gateway for local traffic.

“The growth in transhipment would be one thing, if it weren’t also for the gateway traffic the port as to handle – it can be really difficult for a terminal operator when those two come together suddenly,” Xeneta chief analyst Peter Sand told The Loadstar on the sidelines of last week’s TOC Europe 24 event in Rotterdam.

Jordi Torrent, Barcelona Port Authority’s director of strategy, said congestion had become so severe for some importers that “we are now seeing a few products leave the container market and going back to being shipping in bulk, such as low-value chemicals”.

However, at the same time, he said there were new types of products being containerised, such as the surging number of  imported Chinese electric vehicles.

Mr Torrent told The Loadstar: “30,000 cars arrived in Barcelona last year in containers, which is about 10,000 containers in total. It’s around the same level this year, maybe fewer.”

He added that the port had been handling bigger vessels over the past couple of years, which had led to a much larger number of container exchanges per call.

“Very often, we are doing exchanges of 10,000 to 12,000 containers in a single call,” he said.

This is reflected in a more than 25% year-on-year increase in throughput across Barcelona’s three box terminals, which now stands at just under 1.3m teu, compared with just over 1m teu at this point last year, he said.

“All of that growth is transhipment going to the eastern Mediterranean. Traffic from Turkey to the western Mediterranean is also increasing a lot, same with Morroco, and Inditex is moving greater numbers of containers through Barcelona. As a result, we are facing congestion levels we haven’t seen before,” Mr Torrent added.

According to the eeSea liner database, as of today some 54% of vessels are waiting for a berth in Barcelona, compared with 46% at Valencia, 43% at Algeciras and 38% at Tanger Med.

“We don’t have room for maneuvering the containers around the yards, although we are also trying to create inland locations for further capacity,” Mr Torrent explained.

Meanwhile, in response to the blockages, Barcelona’s container terminal operators have expanded their gate hours and hired more dockers, while also introducing “measures to encourage freight forwarders and carriers to evacuate containers from the terminal earlier, especially empties”.

“We are also sometimes giving berthing priority to the largest vessels rather than operating on the traditional first-come, first-service basis,” Mr Torrent said.

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