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The six major North European ports in the Le Havre-Hamburg range will see a 5.5% increase in volumes this year, according to the latest Global Port Tracker (GPT) report.

The report, published by Hackett Associates in conjunction with the Bremen-based Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL) forecasts a 4.3% increase in throughput of loaded imports across the ports this year, compared with 2013.

Imports from January to April handled in the Le Havre-Hamburg range increased by 4.9% over 2013, with a predicted full-year total of 14.47m teu, leading to a full-year gain of 5.5% in total teu handled.

Although these numbers include transhipment cargo, empties and intra-Europe shortsea traffic, they are a sign of improving consumer confidence, said Ben Hackett, the founder of the maritime research consultancy.

However, he cautioned that demand still remained “firmly in the hands of the consumer”, boosted by low interest rate policies and “solid growth in the UK and Germany”.

Written just days after the announcement of the vetoing of the P3 alliance by Chinese regulators, the report suggests that North Europe’s terminal operators “must be heaving a sigh of relief” at not having to accommodate 18,000teu ships with load factors of around 95%.

GPT argues that it was “a witches’ brew to start with, the coming together of the three most unlikely partners with business cultures at opposite points of a triangle”.

It says: “What the Chinese identified was the danger of a cartel that could damage Chinese trade, as well as the financial results of the two state owned carriers, Cosco and China Shipping.

“The logic of P3 was to bring together a well-managed operating pool of ships focused on economies of scale and reduced operating costs. What China saw was the creation of a means to reduce capacity sufficiently to allow for the increase of freight rates, whilst at the same time operating with rates low enough that they would probably be below the break-even level of most of the competition.”

Notwithstanding the foiled aspirations of the P3 members, port congestion has become a hot topic once again, it adds.

“Terminals are having a difficult time dealing with the big ships in terms of productivity and sufficient space. In North European ports there is already congestion resulting from the very large interchange of containers from the 16,000teu-plus ships and the difficulty of dealing with transhipment volumes that they generate in ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp.”

Indeed, the impact on the operating efficiency of North European ports from the deployment of ultra-large container vessels on the Asia-Europe tradelane was the subject of much debate at the TOC Container Supply Chain event held in London last week.

And with the dust beginning to settle on the P3’s demise, GPT suggests that handling growth within the Le Havre-Hamburg range of ports will vary during the remainder of the year, reflecting the “current market war that is taking place between Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp”.

Speaking at a TOC seminar last week, Mr Hackett said volumes would continue to “bounce around”, particularly between the German and Dutch ports, fuelled by discounts offered by port authorities.

Elsewhere, the big loser from the stymieing of the P3 is the much underused JadeWeserPort at Wilhelmshavenm which, noted GPT, would have been the main beneficiary port of the alliance’s network.

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