European ports will struggle to handle the revamped services due to be launched by the P3 and G6 carrier alliances because of their weak intermodal transport links, according to Drewry Maritime Research.
Port rationalization unveiled by the P3 carriers – Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co. and CMA CGM – “means that much bigger chunks of Asian cargo will have to be discharged from every vessel, and then, just as importantly, processed through each gateway to its hinterland before the next arrives, possibly just a few days later,” the London-based analyst said.
Terminal operators in Europe “have yet to show their hinterland cargo can be delivered efficiently under the conditions envisaged,” Drewry said. Berthing ships on time will count for little if there is insufficient stack capacity to handle their cargo, which means greater use of intermodal transport, as most European highways are already congested.
The G6 and CKYHE alliances will have to become more integrated than simple vessel-sharing agreements to match the P3’s efficiency, which in turn, means further port rationalization.
“Like P3, their port calls will get fewer as vessels get bigger, so that cargo needing to be processed in favored ports every week will inevitably escalate,” Drewry said.
European ports have been investing heavily in dredging and developing intermodal transport to handle container vessels of more than 14,000 TEUs, but the scale of the challenge has escalated following the establishment of alliances and the spate of orders for mega-ships. The average size of vessels on the Asia-North Europe route has grown to 10,923 TEUs in the past two years, while the number of weekly services has declined from 30 to 22 and the number of port calls from 104 to 87.
When the P3 Network launches, probably in the second half of the year, the average vessel size of its three member lines on the route will jump to 13,032 TEUs from 11,580 TEUs, while the number of weekly services will decline from nine to eight and the number of port calls from 41 to 32. This will place a burden on European ports’ intermodal transport links, not least because the continent’s railroads are still more congested than its highways.
Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest container port, located in the Netherlands, has led the development of rail transport to the hinterland, including a government-financed dedicated cargo rail track to the German border. Yet rail’s share of Rotterdam’s traffic slipped to 10.7 percent in 2012 from 11.2 percent in 2009, while trucking was down only slightly to 54.0 percent from 55.4 percent. Barge transport was the winner, its market share edging up to 35.3 percent from 33.4 percent during the period.
Second-ranked Hamburg, Germany, also has failed to significantly change its modal split, with trucking accounting for 59 percent of the market, rail for 39 percent and barges for 2 percent in 2013.
Rail is much more competitive over longer distances. Hamburg’s rail share rises to more than 70 percent for journey’s longer than 700 kilometers (about 438 miles). Rail also scores higher for Rotterdam’s long haul traffic, while many containers that were stuffed and unstuffed at the port are now handled at inland ports like Duisburg across the German border.
“Europe’s slow climb out of recession means that cargo growth should remain manageable this year and next, but it is only a temporary benefit of the economic slowdown,” Drewry said. “Much more needs to be done to improve intermodal transport.”
Contact Bruce Barnard at email@example.com.