Northern Europe’s major container ports were eerily quiet over the weekend, due to the nearly week-long blockade of the Suez Canal by Ever Given.
But now, an armada of last-minute ULCVs is en route from the Mediterranean, posing an intense challenge for ship operators to turn ships around as quickly as possible and return them and urgently needed empty equipment back to Asia.
For example, the 19,273 teu Cosco Shipping Scorpio left the channel on April 1 and, along with 60 other container ships, is headed for the port of Rotterdam.
The fully loaded vessel is deployed on an Asia-North Europe loop by the Ocean Alliance, and is scheduled to arrive on Saturday. However, according to the latest data from VesselsValue, it carries a slow sailing speed of 14 knots and a revised arrival time of 10 a.m. on April 13.
Some vessels will be asked to slow down to avoid unnecessary fuel consumption if they are forced to wait for a berth and others will be asked to speed up to meet a berthing window, and alliances will be forced to juggle vessel rotations in their loops to mitigate the impact of vessel crowding in ports.
For their part, terminal operators are warning carriers that there is a limit to their capacity.
Loadstar understands that both Antwerp and Rotterdam are taking a tougher line than normal on requests to unload British cargo at their hubs, fearing that terminals will be overwhelmed with equipment on the quays awaiting relay or feeder connections.
Offloading cargo from a forward port also brings with it the problem of selected containers being over-stowed, forcing the terminal operator to dig out and re-stow containers and thus extending the time in port, delaying the berthing of subsequent vessels.
The Port of Rotterdam stated that it was “important to keep terminal capacity levels at a manageable level.”
It added: “As the port expects an exceptionally high influx of vessels and goods, it is important to work towards fast throughput as well as an optimal balance between import and export flows.”
The port said it would try to restrict “premature” export deliveries.
“Given that terminals will not be able to help everyone at the same time, we call on all parties in the logistics chain to check whether they have any scope to adapt their processes in the interim,” it added.
According to Alan Murphy, managing director of SeaIntelligence, the Suez Canal disruption will lead to a sharp decline in export capacity from northern Europe to Asia.
“Exporters face an imminent drop in export capacity of almost 80%, followed by two weeks of much higher-than-usual outbound capacity,” he said. “But an imminent sharp drop in export capacity will certainly leave a significant amount of European export cargo in Europe for a week or two until it can be moved,” he added.
Meanwhile, according to VesselsValue data, 17 Asia-Europe and Asia-US East Coast vessels were diverted around the Cape of Good Hope while the Suez Canal was blocked.
THE Alliance partners diverted three backhaul vessels from northern Europe to Asia and one headhaul vessel from Asia to northern Europe, and HMM warned customers that “another spike” will occur once the diverted vessels reach their destination ports.