Majestic Maersk at Felixstowe

Asia-North Europe ships are taking up to 54 extra days to complete round-trip voyages, due to chronic port congestion at their European hub ports.

According to an Alphaliner survey, based on current schedule delays on the services, at least 44 extra ships of 14,000-24,000 teu would be required to maintain pro-forma weekly sailings on all 17 loops.

However, the decision of Ocean Alliance partners CMA CGM, Cosco and Evergreen to skip more ports in North Europe than their rivals has cut their average voyage delay to just seven days, it adds.

Based on a survey of current voyage lengths on the 17 different loops arriving back in Asia this week, Alphaliner calculates rival alliance 2M’s average voyage delay at 19 days and THE Alliance suffering an average delay of 35 days.

“Measuring the delays on a full round trip seems the best way to identify the destructive effect of port congestion on lines’ schedules,” said the consultant.

“THEA is paying a price for not skipping ports in Europe and maintaining original rotation. Having Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp as base ports causes extra delays, as they are far more congested than smaller ports, such as Zeebrugge or Wilhelmshaven, used by the Ocean Alliance,” said Alphaliner.

It said that, in its snapshot survey, there had been specific reasons why the Ocean Alliance had performed better than its rivals in terms of schedule reliability. For example, it said Cosco had been able to reduce the late arrival of the 14,074 teu CSCL Mars to only four days by skipping scheduled calls at Rotterdam and Felixstowe.

Nevertheless, shippers with cargo on board the diverted ships would prefer carriers maintained their advertised port calls, regardless of berthing delays, rather than overland containers, with a much greater uncertainty of relay operations.

Indeed, when Felixstowe’s vehicle booking system problems re-emerged a year ago, there were reports to The Loadstar of UK containers discharged in Zeebrugge taking up to six weeks to be relayed back.

“There are major problems with the relay option,” one liner source told The Loadstar today. “Firstly, there is no spare feeder capacity at the moment and, secondly, even if we can get a relay organised, we face the same problem of a heavily congested berth when we get to the original destination port.”

Moreover, the overlanded UK containers will pile more pressure onto the hub ports where congestion is at critical levels.

Meanwhile, the deteriorating berthing situation at Felixstowe, overwhelmed by landside delays attributed to the UK’s acute shortage of HGV drivers, will see more 2M sailings omit the call, according to Maersk’s head of east-west ocean network, Lars Mikael Jensen.

Yesterday, he told the BBC’s World Business Report programme Maersk had “taken a decision that not all of the big ships will call at Felixstowe, but instead they will continue on their planned voyage and go to ports like Rotterdam and Bremerhaven”.

He said Felixstowe containers would be relayed to the UK by smaller ships.

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