Severe congestion issues in Northern European ports
7 July 2022
After months of closures, life in the Chinese port city of Shanghai is slowly returning to ‘normal’. Since it reopened on 1 June, enormous strides have been made to clear the cargo backlog. Whereas the worst inconvenience is behind us in Shanghai, problems are now expected to arise in Northern Europe. This is because this great big mountain of cargo will soon reach the already overstretched terminals.
Shanghai is back in business
From the start of April until the end of May this year, Shanghai port was closed for all types of transport. Because of the countless Omicron infections, the Chinese government decided it was no longer possible to keep the port area open. After months of lockdown, work resumed gradually from 1 June.
Since it reopening, the backlog has been successfully cleared, and for the last few days it seems the situation is under control. Of course, it also helps that various shipping companies had already announced cancellations of about a third of their sailings by the time spring came around. These blank sailings mean a greatly reduced number of container ships docking than usual during this period, which gives the port ‘space to breathe’ as it were.
Stacking in Northern Europe
As a result of the reopening of the Shanghai port area, the coming period will see an enormous wave of import containers arriving in Northern Europe. With the peak season upon us, this will lead to worrying times for ports such as Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Antwerp, and Rotterdam.
After all, the current Northern European terminals are already overstretched as it is. Great quantities of empty containers, waiting for export cargo, are stacked up. Shipping companies are asking transporters several times a week to switch from one depot to another, to try and manage the major imbalance issue somewhat. Indeed, the import cargo from Asia still far exceeds to export cargo moving the other way.
Other parties are also experiencing inconvenience from the great influx of import cargo. Warehouses and storage facilities surrounding the Northern European ports are packed to the rafters. As well as the usual storage, handling and transshipment activities, they have also had to deal with long-term goods storage over the last few months. Thousands of containers and shipments, destined for Russia, are stuck. These goods have been blocked for onward transport by customs.
The Antwerp and Hamburg terminals currently have a minimum occupancy rate of 90%. This is as high as 95% in Rotterdam. Because of these circumstances, container ships are docked much longer. This increases the waiting times for storage, handling and transshipment, resulting in delays in sailing schedules.
The extraordinary congestion problems are bad news for feeders and inland vessels too. Container ships are given priority at all times, meaning other vessels have to join the back of the queue. Waiting times of up to 4 or 5 days for docking make planning ahead extremely difficult at the moment. This was the main reason for the port of Antwerp to suspend all inland waterway activities until at least the end of June.
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