Container traffic at the world’s 25 largest ports is growing at the slowest rate since 2009 and will continue to weaken through the first half of this year, according to industry analyst Alphaliner.
The top 25, which includes 11 ports in China, seven in the rest of Asia, four in Europe, two in the U.S. and one in the Middle East, saw their aggregate volumes grow by 4 percent in 2012, down from 8.7 percent in 2011 and 15.5 percent in 2010.
Demand was particularly weak in the second half of 2012, with growth slowing to only 2.8 percent, largely reflecting weak volumes on the key Far East-Europe and Far East-North America headhaul routes, which recorded year-on-year declines of 4.4 percent and 0.4 percent respectively in 2012.
“The weak demand remains the key challenge for the industry for 2013, with slower growth expected to continue at least for the first half of the year,” Alphaliner said.
The Far East-Europe route is expected to be one of the worst-performing routes again in 2013, with significant uncertainty over the strength of European consumer demand.
Maersk Line’s decision to suspend its AE-9 Asia-Europe service from February provides further evidence of the severity of the slump, leaving several of the carrier’s 6,000 to 7,000-TEU vessels jobless for the next two months.
While Maersk plans to redeploy the ships in a new Far East-U.S. East Coast service via the Suez Canal in April, Alphaliner said more enforced idling of surplus tonnage is likely in the next few weeks because of sluggish global trade demand.
Shanghai, the world’s biggest container port, increased traffic by 2.5 percent in 2012 to 32.5 million 20-foot-equivalent units, and second-ranked Singapore grew 5.7 percent to 31.6 million TEUs.
Dalian was the fastest growing port in 2012, with traffic soaring 26 percent to 8.1 million TEUs, and Hong Kong was the worst performer, with throughput falling 5.2 percent to 23.2 million TEUs.