Asia-to-Europe container shippers with tight supply chains are finding that ships are increasingly arriving late versus published schedules.
More than 40 percent of vessels arriving from Asia at key European ports were more than 24 hours late, while more than 61 percent of vessel arrivals were more than 12 hours behind schedule, according to the supply chain software company CargoSmart. The findings came from a survey of 709 vessel arrivals by 22 ocean carriers at six major North Europe ports between March 15 and April 15.
The ports analyzed were: Antwerp, Bremerhaven, Felixstowe, Hamburg, Le Havre and Rotterdam. Hamburg, Le Havre and Rotterdam performed similarly, with Le Havre having a higher average delay. Felixstowe had the smallest average delay and fewest vessel delays over one day, but also significantly fewer vessel arrivals. For vessels calling at Antwerp, the average delay was 23.9 hours, and more than half of the ships were delayed more than one day. Among the six ports, Bremerhaven had the smallest number of vessel arrivals and showed an average delay of 23 hours, with 43 percent of ships delayed more than one day.
Carriers’ schedule reliability worsened in every quarter of 2013, according to Drewry, which said reliability will likely deteriorate further this year as carriers skip more voyages in a drive to cut costs. Average on-time reliability dropped below 64 percent in the fourth quarter, the lowest it has been since it hit 61 percent in the third quarter of 2011, Drewry said in its Carrier Performance Insight report.
SeaIntel has measured more than 10,000 monthly arrivals, finding that reliability worsened “considerably” over the December-February period, although March saw a slight improvement. “The carriers were heavily affected by adverse weather in January and December, but it is clear that this does not explain the entirety of the downfall in performance, as the drop in performance is not uniform,” Alan Murphy, COO and founder of SeaIntel, told the JOC.
It’s unclear what is causing the delays, but one possible reason is the growing size of ships in the Asia-Europe trade and ports’ inability to keep pace with improved productivity. All six of the currently deployed Maersk 18,000-TEU Triple E ships are deployed on the Asia-Europe trade, as will a total of 37 ships on order that are greater than 17,000 TEUs once they are delivered over the next few years. “As more mega-vessels with a capacity of over 14,000 TEUs are expected to be deployed on the Asia-Europe trade over the next year, it is foreseeable that some European ports and their terminals may have issues handling the inﬂux of containers,” said Graham Collins, director of sales and services of CargoSmart.
Larger vessels are remaining in ports longer and generating more container volumes, placing immense pressure on port equipment and yard moves. The big alliances also mean that containers belonging to many different carriers can arrive on the same ship. In some ports, such as Hong Kong, thousands of inter-terminal truck moves are required to get the containers to their carriers. To improve productivity, the bigger ports are investing in new berths and equipment, but delays in vessel arrivals will continue to have an impact on operations.
“Ports can manage the mega-vessels’ containers when the schedules are planned well in advance. However, it would be a much more diﬃcult task if vessels do not arrive on time,” Collins said.