Carriers Skipped Quarter of European Port Calls due to Congestion

containerships skip North Europe ports due to congestion
Carriers are skipping North Europe ports due to congestion (file photo courtesy of the Port of Felixstowe)

Published Dec 8, 2021 3:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

While much of the attention has been focused on the port congestion and resulting backups on the China to U.S. West Coast routes, new data from Alphaliner highlights the impact port congestion is having on the major carriers scheduled into the Northern European ports. The market research analyst firm is reporting that the major carriers have skipped nearly a quarter of all scheduled calls in Northern Europe on their Far East routes over the past five months.

Alphaliner’s analysts compared actual ship calls in North Europe on the 18 Far East service routes of the three mega alliances in the container shipping industry, The Alliance, 2M, and Ocean Alliance, for the 22 weeks between July 1 and December 2, 2021. The three alliances, which include all the major carriers from Maersk to MSC, Hapag, CMA CGM, ONE, and more, collectively represent more than 3,200 vessels with 20 million TEU of capacity which amounts to 80 percent of the container shipping industry.

The analysis focused on the 18 Far East routes of the carriers and found a total of 383 port calls in North Europe had been skipped over the past five months. The largest North Europe container ports ranging from Felixstowe in the U.K. to Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp all experienced omitted calls. Fully 40 percent of the skipped calls were at Felixstowe, which had reported extensive congestion during the fall. 

In October, for example, Maersk admitted that it was diverting ships from their scheduled calls at Felixstowe to other European ports. They reported that they were using feeder vessels to transport containers back to the U.K. in an attempt to maintain scheduled for the larger vessels.

In its analysis of the skipped port calls, Alphaliner writes that it identifies three reasons why ports lose calls. They cited an ad hoc omission of certain ports on specific voyages to limit delays. They also reported that some of the carriers were temporarily removing or transferring calls for a certain number of weeks to restore schedule reliability, and in some cases, there was a high number of blank sailings.

The members of The Alliance, Hapag-Lloyd, Yang Ming, ONE, and HMM, were reported to be most likely to blank sailings to maintain schedules. Over the past five months, Alphaliner reports The Alliance had blanked a quarter of its trips, a total of six out of 22 scheduled voyages. 

While all the major carriers have been skipping ports, Alphaliner also reported that the lines had added 77 extra calls, often at smaller European ports to compensate for the omitted stops. However, they noted that it only partially makes up for the large number of skipped port calls.