The number of container ships passing through the Suez Canal in May was higher than in April but was down year-over-year for the 33rd straight month.
The Suez Canal reported that 526 container ships passed through its gates in May, up 6.9 percent from April’s totals. Though the canal broke the 500-ship mark for the first time since last October, May’s totals were still 1.3 percent lower year-over-year.
Total throughput stood at 1,426 ships, 3 percent higher than April’s total ship traffic but down 0.3 percent year-over-year.
That traffic is down at the Suez Canal may come as a surprise to analysts and shippers alike, who thought the Suez Canal would see increased traffic this year because of diversions from the Panama Canal and better rates. This year’s contracting season for the trans-Pacific showed that, for the first time, a greater percentage of the all-water eastbound shipments would move through the Suez Canal than the Panama Canal. Alphaliner confirmed the trend.
Carriers moving a shipment from Hong Kong to New York on an 8,000-TEU vessel through the Suez Canal experience a $400-per-FEU lower slot cost than those sending the container on a 4,800-TEU vessel through the Panama Canal, according to Chaim Shacham, an industry consultant and former Zim Integrated Shipping Services executive.
Delays in the Panama Canal’s expansion project were expected to cause traffic through the Suez Canal to increase, because the Suez authority could attract more carriers to use their route as opposed to the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal has not released monthly container traffic data in a year.
The number of container ships passing through the Suez in May was the highest since May 2013, when 533 container ships passed through the canal. Monthly container ship numbers have only topped the 500-ship mark five times in the past year.
While the Suez isn’t seeing the number of ships it had hoped for, the ships are undoubtedly larger. The canal is 66 feet deep and can accommodate vessels as large as Maersk’s 18,270-TEU Triple E ships. In 2013, Drewry reported the average size of ships passing through the Suez Canal was 7,756 TEUs, while the Panama Canal’s average ship size was below 5,000 TEUs. The Suez does, however, charge tariffs per ship. In 2013, the Suez Canal Authority charged about $1 million for combined southbound and northbound transits for 8,000 to 9,000 TEU ships.