The number of containers moved by vessel call has increased exponentially during the pandemic, putting enormous pressure on ship and shore-side labor operations, according to a new report from IHS Markit.
The latest port throughput data compiled by the analyst reveals that vessel trades – container handled – at major ports in the U.S., Northern Europe and Asia soared between 10% and 70% in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2020.
In Northern Europe, the increase in container movements was led by Felixstowe, which saw an 18% jump in boxes handled, followed by Antwerp, up 14%.
In Asia, a 27% increase in Singapore was followed by a 24% increase in Yantian and a 23% increase in Shanghai and Ningbo.
However, the Long Beach facility in Southern California recorded the largest increase of the ports surveyed, with a whopping 73% more container movements per call.
IHS Markit noted that port call sizes had grown prior to the pandemic outbreak, due to increased vessel size and further network optimization, but the “sharp upturn and unpredictability of demand” have “amplified the trend causing delays at many global ports.”
Turloch Mooney, associate director of trade and shipping at IHS Markit, said, “The severe operational stress is due to increased cargo volumes arriving in much more concentrated cargoes.
“This increased demand is putting severe pressure on maritime and inland operations, increasing yard congestion and cargo dwell times, with knock-on effects on equipment repositioning and intermodal links further fueling the problem and leading to sustained congestion at key gateways to the world.”
Higher volumes per call – and the resulting longer dwell time in port – have led to a backlog of container ships waiting for a free berth.
According to IHS Markit data, 40% of ships bound for U.S. West Coast ports have to anchor awaiting berthing, while that figure drops to 26% in Southeast Asia, 23% in Northern Europe and just over 10% in Northeast Asian ports.
“The scale of congestion has surprised many, both inside and outside the industry, and has prompted research into how some container ports have been overwhelmed and what can be done to improve resilience in the future,” Mooney says.
Despite the large increase in vessel trades, northern European and U.S. terminal operators have a way to go to compete with their Asian counterparts and match their crane productivity.
IHS Markit notes that Asian ports load or unload a container in 27 seconds, on average, from large vessel calls, compared to 46 seconds on average for Northern European hubs and 76 seconds for U.S. ports.
Meanwhile, supporting IHS Markit’s analysis, the newly crowned world’s largest container ship, the 23,992 teu Ever Ace, arrived at Felixstowe berths 8 and 9 on its inaugural call at 9.21am on Sunday, trading 4,000 import containers and 4,000 export boxes, of which some 3,000 were empty.
The captain’s last ETD is 10 a.m. Wednesday, and the ULCV has occupied one of two berths at the Felixstowe facility for about three days.