Container service reliability declined for the second quarter in a row during the first quarter of 2011, according to Drewry Maritime Research’s latest “Schedule Reliability Insight” report.
The proportion of the 2,972 vessel calls arriving on time at selected ports around the world during the first three months of 2011 fell back to 51 percent, down from 55 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. The first-quarter reliability performance was only a percentage point improvement on the on-time score recorded in the same period of 2010.
Despite showing the biggest decrease in schedule reliability, the trans-Pacific trade remained the most reliable of the three major east-west routes. Reliability in the transpacific went from 64 percent in the fourth quarter to 55 percent in the first quarter of 2011. By comparison, service between Asia and Europe and the Mediterranean dropped one point to 49 percent, while transatlantic services went from 55 percent to 52 percent.
By the Numbers: Container Rate Benchmark
Drewry said the decline in service reliability during the first quarter of 2011 mirrors the sharp fall in freight rates that lines have experienced. The synchronization of freight rates with reliability is something that has been evident since the first quarter of last year.
“Drewry cannot speculate whether carriers are consciously rewarding or punishing their customers with varying service quality dependent on prices, but it can be assumed that low rates reduce the incentive to deliver above-average service reliability,” said Simon Heaney, editor of Schedule Reliability Insight.
“Compounding the problem, escalating fuel prices mean that carriers are probably less inclined right now to speed up if the ship falls behind schedule.”
Heaney said that the first quarter was punctuated with numerous service changes and additions. The tinkering of service networks does little to aid reliability in the short term.
The report showed a sizable gap between the best- and worst-performing lines. Focusing on the top 20 carriers ranked by vessel capacity that provide the bulk of the vessels tracked, the on-time difference between the leading carriers and the lowest-ranked carriers was in the region of 30 percentage points.
Having led the major carriers in 10 of the previous 11 quarters, Maersk Line ceded the top spot this time around to CSAV. The Chilean carrier managed to improve its on-time percentage sharply to 69.1 percent, up from 45.5 percent in 4Q10. Maersk’s on-time average slipped from 70.2 percent to 66.4 percent, although this was still good enough for third place in the Top 20 rankings. Splitting those two was APL, which finished the quarter with an on-time average of 67.6 percent, little changed from 67.7 percent previously.
Only seven of the Top 20 container lines were able to equal or beat the 51 percent on-time industry average and only four bettered their scores from the previous quarter. The most improved carriers were CSAV, up 23.6 percentage points; Hamburg Sud, up 11 percentage points; MSC, up 6.6 percentage points; and Evergreen, up 0.8 percentage points. Those that suffered the biggest declines were UASC, down by 17.2 percentage points; OOCL, down 13.1 percentage points; and Hyundai Merchant Marine, down 11.6 percentage points.
Drewry has been monitoring container service reliability since the end of 2005. Historically, industry averages have ranged between 50-60 percent with a high of 68 percent in the second quarter of 2009 and low of 46 percent in the first quarter of 2007.