Maersk Line's decision to re-establish service from the U.S. West Coast to North Europe is good news for most shippers in a trade lane that exporters and importers say is underserved by ocean carriers.
"This will be totally positive, as long as their freight rates are reasonable," said Robert Coleman, president of Total Logistics Resource Inc., a forwarder and customs broker in Portland, Ore.
A handful of carriers offer regular service in the trade lane, including Orient Overseas Container Line, Hapag-Lloyd, NYK Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Evergreen Marine Corp., although some of the lines participate in vessel-sharing arrangements so the number of weekly services is limited.
"Space is limited, and you can't always get equipment," said Bob Weiss, an independent administrator of the Food Shippers Association of North America in Bellevue, Wash.
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition recently completed a series of workshops on the West Coast, and AgTC's members stressed the need for more all-water service between West Coast ports and North Europe, said Peter Friedmann, president of the shippers group.
Maersk discontinued its Europe-U.S. West Coast service in 2003. The carrier just re-entered the trade by revising its TA3 service. The pendulum service calls at East Coast ports before passing through the Panama Canal to call at Los Angeles and Oakland, said Gordon Dorsey, a Maersk spokesman.
Cargo volumes are small compared to other east-west trade routes, so carriers usually include their Europe-U.S. West Coast service as part of a pendulum or round-the-world service, and they do not reserve much space on the vessels for West Coast cargoes.
Shippers have the option of moving their cargo by rail to East Coast ports where there is more frequent service to Europe, but intermodal rates tend to be costly, Weiss said. The same goes for exporters in the Pacific Northwest who ship intermodally on the Canadian railroads, he added.
Because of the shortage of direct all-water service, freight rates on all-water services between the West Coast and North Europe can be two or three times the rates on the heavily traveled routes between the West Coast and Asia.
Space constraints on all-water services are a special concern to shippers of some products, such as wine, that do not lend themselves well to rail transport, Coleman said. Breakage is a problem, and wine that is not shipped in insulated containers can be affected by temperature variations.
The trade is also marked by a requirement for more refrigerated capacity, especially from the Pacific Northwest, Weiss added. Shippers there export frozen vegetables and juice concentrates, but all-water capacity from the Pacific North-west to Europe is even less than from California, he said.
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