DPWSouthampton March 2021

The liner industry’s schedule reliability performance declined in the first quarter of this year, reserving earlier improvements as the Red Sea crisis and mounting port congestion disrupted carrier services.

According to new data from liner database eeSea, which today published its first-quarter Schedule Reliability Scorecard, after seeing a widespread improvement during most of last year, industry-wide on-time performance of vessels went into reverse in November.

“Berth stays have increased, and on-time performance has fallen from an average 35% in 2023 to 27% in 2024. All negative indicators share November 2023 as the pivotal downturn period,” the report says.

“Volumes do remain stable, but reliability has continued to drop in Q1, in opposition to the trend of the improved schedule reliability we saw in Q1 23 – we expect this decline to continue through Q2 24.

“Schedule reliability across the board is still far from pre-pandemic levels. Continuing violence in the Red Sea and the Baltimore bridge collapse have contributed to delays and lost capacity in the Asia-Europe and transpacific trades,” it adds.

It described the drop in on-time performance in the first quarter of 2024 as a “considerable decline” and warned that the second quarter was likely to look even worse, with early indications showing a 22% on-time performance currently, likely reflecting many shippers and forwarders experience of the last few weeks.

Maersk continued to lead eeSea’s reliability rankings – it has held the top spot since the third quarter of 2021 – with an on-time performance of 36%, while its forthcoming Gemini partner Hapag-Lloyd, which has made service quality a key metric, has found itself in ninth spot with a 27% on-time performance.

Meanwhile, Maersk’s current 2M partner, MSC, was eighth.

However, eeSea noted that “all alliances have paid a heavy toll this first quarter”, with the Ocean Alliance seeing an on-time performance level of 29%, the same as carriers operating outside alliances, while THE Alliance had dropped to 21% and the 2M to 20%.

It is likely to come as little surprise to container supply chain stakeholders that the largest ports can be most prone to delays, given the complexity that greater numbers of ships pose – Shanghai is the world’s largest box port, hosting 186 weekly services, but was on 26th in best-performing ports, while Singapore, with 130 weekly services was in 64th place.

The port rankings comprised ports with a minimum of 15 weekly services and found that the Ecuadorean gateway of Guayaquil had the highest level of on-time performance of vessel arrivals, at 67%.

This was closely followed by the UK’s Southampton, which had a 63% of on-time arrivals, and Egypt’s Port Said at 53%.

“Delays into a port can be caused both by the carrier arriving late, the port being congested, inclement weather, improper handling of communication channels – or a myriad of other complex scenarios,” the report notes.

“Delay rankings do not reflect on a port’s ability to act as a regional gateway or transhipment hub,” it adds.

Part of the difficulty in measuring schedule reliability is that the recent volatility in shipping has thrown so much of the proforma schedules into disarray, while carriers are making increasingly shirt-term service decisions.

“Carriers have become increasingly adept at making short-term schedule and vessel assignment adjustments through necessity; this decreases arrival predictability and poses additional operational challenges for other industry stakeholders,” it says.

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