Lome Container Terminal
Photo: MSC

Container lines are increasingly building transhipment connections to mitigate the effects of longer transit times and schedule disruptions caused by vessel diversions over the Cape of Good Hope.

In a move that industry sources noted was “unusual,” MSC has expanded the port rotation of its Indus Express service between India and the US east coast with a call at the port of Lome in Togo.  Lome is the only port on the coast of West Africa capable of servicing large container ships with capacities up to 16,000 teu that require a draft of 16 metres.

The Indus itinerary features weekly calls at Nhava Sheva and Mundra on the Indian leg.  And sources believe the rotation expansion allows MSC to target cargo for other markets through transhipment offerings.

The previous Indus rotation was transited the Suez Canal and featured calls in the Gulf, Red Sea and Mediterranean, as well as the US east and Gulf coast ports.

MSC has significant presence and stakes in Lome, as the main container terminal there is managed by its subsidiary Terminal Investment Ltd, in a 50-50 joint-venture with China Merchants.

With the associated ‘own’ terminal advantages, the carrier has for the best part of the past decade been consolidating its Far East-West Africa trade at Lome Container Terminal (LCT).

“Lome has been a regional hub and relay point for MSC for some time, shifting operations away from Lagos and San Pedro,” a Mumbai-based liner industry observer told The Loadstar.

“Lome is also well connected through feeders to serve other West African ports,” the source noted.

The Indus Express complements MSC’s “Indusa” loop on the India-US tradelane.

MSC earlier unveiled plans to invest some $500m in the port of Lome by 2030, in a bid to scale up capacity levels from 1.6m teu to some 2.2m teu annually.

The carrier also promotes LCT as an ideal gateway for the landlocked countries of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, as well as to the northern areas of Nigeria.

Additionally, the $6bn acquisition of Bollore Africa Logistics in 2022 gave MSC a big boost in the region. Bolloré had some 16 container terminal concessions throughout Africa.

Amid the Red Sea crisis, transhipment and regional feeder connections have become a priority for container lines, sparking delays and congestion across major hubs, particularly in the Asian region.

MSC is now using southern India ports of Ennore and Kattupalli as transhipment alternatives to Colombo, as the Sri Lankan port battles capacity pressure.

But with spillover and other operational problems, the India-North Europe-Mediterranean (NEWMO) service jointly operated by CMA CGM and MSC which routinely calls at Adani Ennore Terminal was forced to relocate its last vessel, the APL Boston, to Chennai Port last week.

And there seems to be no let up from the disruptions at Ennore, as the upcoming NEWMO vessel, APL New York, has voided its Ennore call.

“The vessel will be skipping the Ennore call due to the delay in the previous voyage and non-availability of berth,” CMA CGM Agency (India) told customers.

“Containers booked on the APL New York will be planned on the next available vessel – MSC Justice calling Ennore port on 29 May,” it added.

You can contact the writer at [email protected].

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