Carriers 'tear up schedules' in race to get diverted box ships to port

Release date: 2023-12-22
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Carriers 'tear up schedules' in race to get diverted box ships to port

European and US container ports and forwarders are scrambling to obtain revised ETAs for vessels from Asia that have been re-routed around the Cape of Good Hope.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that ships heading for North Europe may be instructed to increase speed to grab terminal slots ahead of their competitors.

At an average service speed of 18 knots, diverting around Southern Africa will add around 10 days to voyage times to North Europe and could add 15 days to transits to eastern Mediterranean ports. Asia-US east coast services will see voyages extended by approximately seven days.

“We are effectively tearing up the proforma schedules of the ships and starting with a blank piece of paper to see how we can turn the ships around in Europe in the fastest way, given the stowage configuration onboard,” a carrier contact told The Loadstar.

Indeed, the final decision on the rotation, for instance, of individual alliance ships will be taken by the vessel’s operating line, following discussions with container terminals and their alliance partners.

Maritime and supply chain intelligence company eeSea has its work cut out keeping track of the “hidden” or unconfirmed diversions.

In the absence of any official confirmation from operators, eeSea is relying on AIS and ship captains’ next port updates, when given, to track progress of vessels.

There are also ships eeSea described as “drifting”, or sitting at anchorage, whose next moves cannot be determined, according to eeSea’s head of operations, Destine Ozuygur.

“For example, two major transpacific services that serve the US, THE Alliance’s EC5 and Ocean Alliance’s PSW3 and AWE3, have at least five vessels forecasted to traverse the Suez Canal through week 1 of 2024, that have been drifting in recent days,” she said.

Container terminal operators will be anxious to avoid a repeat of the severe port and landside congestion at North European box hubs that resulted from the surge of big ship arrivals following the blockage of the Suez Canal by the Ever Given in 2021.

However, the major container ports in Europe currently have much lower utilisation levels and are in a better position to cope than in the spring of 2021, when Covid-driven demand was still at its peak.

Nevertheless, port and vessel planners will want to avoid the bunching of 24,000 teu ships, which could, for example, result in UK imports being consolidated at Antwerp or Rotterdam for relay at a later date. According to The Loadstar’s UK shipper contacts, a feeder relay operation would be their worst nightmare, with uncertainty about the arrival of goods and, in some cases, split shipments.

“We are trying to keep our customers as up to date as we can from the information we are receiving from the lines, but they just don’t seem to know much themselves,” a UK-based NVOCC contact told The Loadstar.

He added that he was receiving conflicting information from carriers within the same alliance on the status of some inbound vessels.

“All they seem to be concentrating on at the moment is sending out huge peak season and contingency surcharges, while we just want to know when we can get hold of the containers,” he added.

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