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Port congestion continues as peak season approaches

Container port congestion in Northern Europe is still a major issue, with continuing disruption impacting vessels schedules, increasing transit times and triggering more blank sailings.

The recent RMT rail strike had minimal impact on freight train operations, but industrial action is directly impacting port operations on the European mainland, with labour disputes impacting French ports and while train capacities held up, local haulage capability was overwhelmed at Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon and Gevrey for up to two weeks.

Further industrial action in Germany and Belgium comes as Europe’s busiest ports struggle with persistent congestion, that has delayed vessels, increased cargo lead times and created bottlenecks across inland logistics chains since the onset of the pandemic two years ago. 

It is unfortunate, but delay, congestion and disruption in European ports can have an indirect impact on your container movements, because consequences are delays for UK vessel calls and and extended overall transit times.

We try to work with the most reliable container shipping lines, but with only 19% on-time reliability from Asia (across all carriers), this is not an easy task.

The ports worst affected by increased lead times over the last twelve months include Fos, Bremerhaven, and Zeebrugge, with 28%, 31%, and 39% increases year-on-year. A container moving from China to Zeebrugge currently takes an average of 37 days compared to 27 days in May 2022 

An easing of congestion in Rotterdam, Hamburg, Le Havre, and Dunkirk meant carriers were able to deliver cargo faster to 8 of the 12 main EU/UK ports last month, while 8 out of 12 ports showed an increase in cargo lead times year-on-year, that highlights the alarming drop in carrier reliability two years into the supply chain crisis. 

Schedule reliability improvements in the 1st quarter have already been reversed, falling 1.3% and down 4.7% year-on- year. 

Average days delay improved by 1.04 days to 6.41 days late, but are still way above historic levels. Some trades are faring worse than others, with Asia- Europe achieving 19% on-time, with average delays of +10 days. 

High freight rates are caused by lack of capacity and lack of capacity across Asia, Europe and the USA is caused by vessels waiting, which is in turn caused by port congestion. If rates are to normalise, port congestion must end and cargo lead times normalised. 

To learn how we can help you avoid the impacts of port congestion, please email our managing director, Colin Redman, who can advise on the best solutions for your ocean supply chain.