Port of Felixstowe Photo 141849505 Cargo © Phil Harland Dreamstime.com

Berthing and landside delays at the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, remain “critical”, prompting 2M partners Maersk and MSC to extend the omission of the AE7/Condor loop until March next year.

Maersk said that until then, Felixstowe import containers would continue to be overlanded at Wilhelmshaven and relayed via a shuttle service.

And it is understood that MSC’s UK boxes will be landed at Antwerp and feedered to Felixstowe.

“We take this action with extreme reluctance and will be working hard to ensure that we can return the network to normality when operating conditions allow,” said Maersk.

The AE7/Condor loop was, until recently, also omitting Hamburg on its North European voyage. However, the call at the German port was reinstated after operational capacity “improved significantly”.

Maersk said it was facing “high yard density and multiple delays into virtually all main ports” in North Europe, but described Felixstowe as the “most critical” hub in its network, with vessel berthing delays in excess of three days making its ‘global red list’.

Nevertheless, some contacts at the east coast UK port question whether the berthing delays are as bad as the carriers suggest.

“The problem is that these big ships are turning up way off-schedule and then expect to be worked on arrival, with a huge exchange. They are not prepared to wait their turn and, because we can’t give them any guarantees, they then skip future calls,” said an industry source.

Moreover, it appears that the relay operations for UK cargo ex-Wilhelmshaven and Antwerp have just added to the confusion for frustrated importers, with one shipper telling The Loadstar today the shipped onboard feeder information was “sketchy at best” – but mostly its “disorganised chaos”, he said.

“We are getting split shipments all the time and our customers are pulling their hair out, as they are often finding some vital parts of their product are stuck in a container on the quay in Germany,” he said.

Furthermore, the news for north European importers in general from Maersk’s latest market outlook is that, at least until February’s Chinese New Year, there is unlikely to be any respite to delays to cargo arrivals across its Asia-North Europe network.

The carrier said it had suffered “accumulated delays” on its AE1, AE6 and AE55 loops and had, therefore, rolled the voyage numbers “to match the actual departure weeks and to improve schedule visibility”.

Indeed, these schedule “slidings” are the new but largely enforced blankings by carriers that are restricting capacity and underpinning the high container spot rates in the market.

Nevertheless, in its market update, Maersk is more bearish than some of its peers on demand post-CNY.

“Risks are increasing as rising prices and a reduction in government financial support challenge the global economy and threaten to erode and dampen trade,” said Maersk.

The carrier was less concerned about the US market, where it expects “moderate growth compared with 2021”, than the European trade, where it said the outlook was “more uncertain” and it had “seen demand slowing”.

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