• Congestion delays container movements at Europe’s largest ports

    20 July 2017

    In recent weeks, several carriers and barge operators have started to impose congestion surcharges at the ports of Antwerp, Belgium and Rotterdam, Netherlands in response to lengthening delays in loading and unloading at the two largest European container ports. Accounting for more than 40 per cent of inland cargo movement at both ports, barges are currently facing delays between 36 to 120 hours in extreme cases. The delays are said to have been caused by multiple factors since May 2017. These include the use of larger container ships by carriers since new shipping alliances launched operations, several days of downtime at both APM Terminals in Rotterdam due to a recent cyber-attack and lower productivity levels due to the summer holiday period.

    Several large carriers including Hapag-Lloyd, MOL and CMA CGM apply congestion surcharges of up to EUR 25 per TEU for barge transport on the Rhine River for most loads and terminals. Barge operators also impose surcharges between EUR 15 and EUR 25. While Contargo charges per container for all loads and terminals on the Rhine River until August 31, Danser only applies the surcharge for upper Rhine shipments, shipments between Antwerp and Rotterdam and some intra-port services.

    Significant delays are also being reported at Bremerhaven, Germany, with some rail operators applying congestion surcharges of up to EUR 30 per TEU for all rail transports, including multimodal transport in and out of Bremerhaven. It is believed that the congestion has been partially caused by recent storms that damaged rail tracks in northern Germany and capacity shortages following an increase in container handling due to container ships being diverted from Antwerp and Rotterdam.

    Both congestion issues are unlikely to ease over the coming weeks and will continue to severely impact intermodal shipments at these ports, causing delays, additional costs and potentially supply shortages. At the port of Antwerp, a committee of port and barge operators, shippers and forwarders has been formed in early July 2017 to tackle the barge congestion issue. However, concrete actions points are unlikely to be implemented before October 2017. Viable alternatives are so far limited on the market, with rail freight from and to Rotterdam and Antwerp and road freight from and to Bremerhaven being the most likely alternatives to emerge. However, as freight capacity is expected to be insufficient on these routes, increased transportation fares are likely to be applied by operators.

    Monitor DHL Resilience360 for more updates on the situation.