Port of Koper Slovenia Photo 246869695 © Jan Gajdosik Dreamstime.com
Photo: © Jan Gajdosik

Long-haul ro-ro schedules are facing multiple challenges, causing congestion and delays in handling cars in ports in Europe, China, South Africa, the US and Australia.

According to The Loadstar sources, the movement of cars at ports around Europe, particularly Southampton, Koper and Zeebrugge (now called Antwerp-Bruges), are suffering with space issues, caused by driver shortages and exports are delayed by a lack of ro-ro vessel space.

A spokesperson for Antwerp-Bruges told The Loadstar: “The car terminals in the whole of Europe [are] experiencing congestion.” But it insists, however, that the port is not closed for new cars, adding: “Additional sites are already being made available to the automotive sector, and a more sites are in accelerated development.”

One of the major contributing factors to the congestion has been what the port of Antwerp-Bruges called the “bullwhip effect”, where the pandemic delayed production due to a shortage of semiconductors, which increased substantially following the post-COVID recovery.

But the major cause of congestion has been the trucking sector, with a lack of drivers a major concern as well as the decline in the number of companies operating car-carrying vehicles.

A port spokesperson said driver shortages were getting worse every year as drivers retire from the profession and added: “The war in Ukraine also made the shortage worse, as many drivers came from that country. And trucking cars is also not very popular among drivers.”

Loadstar sources indicate that Southampton in the UK  and the Slovenian port of Koper, in the Adriatic, are also experiencing congestion, particularly with exports. Koper exports cars, farm equipment and construction vehicles for Central and Eastern Europe, including Austria and Hungry.

One car exporter said that, at Southampton, delays of up to 18 weeks could be seen for export vehicles, while in Australia imports are being delayed by checks at ports for unwanted/invasive organisms, often up to three weeks.

Delays to schedules have seen long-haul carriers skip ports to make up time, further exacerbating the delays.

One forwarder said it was sending cars in containers rather than wait for delayed ro-ro services that have seen freight rates spiral due to congestion and shortage of space.

“We can get two large cars into a 40ft box, while smaller cars, with a rack, we can fit four in,” said the forwarder. He added with container rates comparatively low and the scheduling for liner shipping back to normal “the costs for containerising vehicles is on a par with ro-ro costs.

“Inland rates are higher for container movements and that’s what brings the costs up to a par,” he said.

Both the industry source and the Port of Antwerp-Bruges reported that an increase in the production of cars in China has added to the congestion challenges.

Congestion and rate increases are: “Due to a bigger demand for the vessels to handle the increase in production of cars in China,” said the Port of Antwerp-Bruges.

Moreover, they pointed out that wait longer to enter a port, more vessels need to be put in the rotation.

“This shifts part of the shortsea fleet to the deepsea fleet. The shortage of short sea vessels then further limits the capacity of terminals in Europe to move cars from their terminals to their final destination,” explained the port spokesperson.

Meanwhile Ceva Logistics announced today that it has signed a 10-year lease for ro-ro vessel capacity with parent CMA CGM.The agreement for four of Eastern Pacific Shipping’s LNG dual-fuel hybrid deep-sea vessels will allow CEVA to transport approximately 140,000 vehicles annually between global markets, especially China and Europe, it said.

The ships are currently under construction by China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai), with the first vessel expected to be delivered in December and the three subsequent ships coming in 2024. Under the lease agreement, CEVA Logistics will manage and operate the vessels with full commercial control over the RORO capacity.

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