Waiting for the goods

Containers clog the seaports. The current labour disputes in the port of Hamburg and Antwerp are only one reason for the problems. And improvement is not in sight until next year. by Dirk Mewis

Workers at Germany’s largest port in Hamburg were on warning strike the weekend before last. This is to emphasise the demands of the approximately 12,000 workers in the German seaports in the negotiations on wage increases.

Most recently, the Central Association of German Seaport Operators presented a new offer. The core of the offer is an increase in hourly wages by 90 cents and an increase in lump-sum payments. According to the association, the offer corresponds to a wage increase of between six and eight per cent over a period of twelve months. The demands of the responsible trade union, Verdi, are higher.

In Antwerp, the second largest seaport in Northern Europe behind Rotterdam and ahead of Hamburg, dockworkers also recently went on strike for 24 hours for better working conditions and pay. With these actions, the problems of global shipping continue. While the outbreak of the Corona pandemic initially extended delivery times by weeks and months and increased transport costs tenfold at peak times, Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine and the renewed lockdown in Shanghai have recently led to further distortions in container and sea transport.

Relaxation is coming – but no longer this year

Shipping data firm Clarkson’s Port Congestion Index, which measures congestion at the world’s seaports, is currently showing a peak that has risen again by almost eight per cent. “We believe that the current delays, which affect not only the ports but also the inland transport infrastructure, will persist until at least the first quarter of 2023,” the shipping service G-Captain quotes the logistics manager in charge at Visy Industries, Peter Sundara.

The CEO of the Hapag-Lloyd shipping line had also recently announced a significant easing of the situation only for the coming year. In the course of 2023, the shipping companies will receive new container ships and expand their capacities. It is true that ship orders are currently 25 per cent higher than at the same time last year. But there are hardly any cargo ships available at the moment. For example, the number of laid-up and thus unused ship units is lower than it has been for many years.

Discounter Lidl wants to buy its own container ships

Rising freight costs, longer transit times as well as higher uncertainty about the transport process will become the new daily routine in logistics. One trend that is emerging from this is significantly longer contract periods for rented ships between freight forwarders and shipping companies. It fits in with this that the discounter Lidl has now announced the acquisition of its own cargo ships in order to reliably get goods from Asia to Northern Europe.

At the same time, the world’s second largest container shipping company Maersk is now planning its own solutions to counteract the container congestion in the seaports as well as the consequences of strikes by port workers. Containers are to be driven from overcrowded ports to other locations, collected there and later distributed from there. According to Maersk, congestion in Bremerhaven, for example, has reached “a critical level”. The situation is similar in Rotterdam. Maersk cites a value of 80 per cent for the occupancy of port space.

Ports work unproductively

The container ports lack the air to breathe, shipping experts say. The volume of containers for export and boxes from import is no longer in a ratio that allows smooth operation. As a result, the terminals would work increasingly unproductively. “It does no good if we load thousands of containers onto an already full container terminal just because the waiting times of the ships will otherwise become even longer. We need space on the quay wall for distribution ships to relieve the port area,” is how an expert at G-Captain describes the situation. Shipping managers are therefore campaigning for transit times to be revised and brought into line with realities. “If that means we no longer have weekly arrivals, but instead arrive every eight or nine days, then so be it,” says one expert.

Meanwhile, the situation at the world’s largest container port, Shanghai, is improving. According to London-based shipping data Vessels Value, operations have largely returned to normal, regardless of current restrictions due to the Corona pandemic.

After that, the average waiting times for container ships are back to the usual values. Whereas at the end of April it was 69 hours, it is now around 34 hours with a falling trend.

You can find more articles here in our news overview Bild: Pixabay


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