Euro ports brace for more throughput declines as carriers blank more sailings

By Mike Wackett 24/10/2022

The top North European container hub ports are seeing a considerable reduction in alliance calls from Asia, and so are bracing for a significant drop in throughput in the final quarter.

Ocean carriers are being forced to drastically adjust weekly capacity from Asia to Europe and the US against a background of exceptionally weak demand – and the bleak outlook could see many more advertised sailings withdrawn in the coming months.

For example, 2M partners MSC and Maersk announced on Friday that, due to “forecasted reductions in demand”, they would again be withdrawing their AE1/Shogun Asia-North Europe service from China, blanking the sailing of the 14,336 teu MSC Faith from Ningbo scheduled for 6 November.

According to eeSea data, the loop features import calls at Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, a discharge and load call at Bremerhaven and a second call at Rotterdam to reload.

The Zeebrugge call was added in June, along with a new import call on the 2M’S AE6/Lion service, which the carriers said would help mitigate the impact of heavy landside congestion at Antwerp and Rotterdam.

As a result, the newly unified Antwerp-Bruges box terminal complex was better able to manage bunching vessel arrivals and very high container exchanges. But container throughput in the first nine months of the year was still down 5% on the same period of 2021, at 10.2m teu.

Moreover, carriers only started to aggressively cut capacity from Asia this month, around the Chinese Golden Week holiday, so the impact of these reduced calls and throughput will only be reflected in Q4 numbers.

Indeed, the AE6/Lion loop has also been blanked in recent weeks, thus the win for Zeebrugge in the summer months is likely to be reversed – or at least substantially reduced – until demand recovers.

And Antwerp-Bruges CEO Jacques Vandermeiren was pessimistic about the short-term outlook, saying “the negative trend in the container segment…is likely to continue towards the end of the year”.

At neighbouring Rotterdam it is a similar story, with container throughput at the hub’s terminals contracting by 4.4% between January and September, compared with the previous year, to 11.5m teu. It also blamed the war in Ukraine.

“As a consequence of sanctions, container traffic between Russia and Rotterdam has almost come to a standstill,” said the port, explaining that “in the past few years, about 8% of container traffic was related to Russia”.

It added that an increased number of empty containers handled at the port’s terminals had compensated for some of the lost Russian trade.