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Maersk, MSC and Zim Omit Seattle Calls Due to Congestion 

carriers omit calls in Seattle due to congestion
Congrestion and backlogs have spread to the port of Seattle (Northwest Seaport Alliance)

Published Oct 27, 2021 4:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

With congestion spreading to other ports across the United States, Maersk, MSC, and Zim announced that they will be omitting calls in Seattle due to the mounting delays at the port. Starting this week, the three carriers said they would be temporarily omitted calls at Seattle from one of their partnered routes.

“Due to the increased waiting time for vessel berthing at Seattle, impacting schedule reliability and causing delays to shipments, MSC has decided to temporarily omit the Seattle call on its EAGLE service,” the carrier writes in a customer update. Maersk made similar comments to its customers writing in its alert, that it was “temporarily remove Seattle call from the port rotation of service TP9, to stabilize the vessel schedule and deliver a more reliable product to our customers.”

While the route is not one of the largest, it nonetheless illustrates the spread of congestion to a broader range of ports. Industry guides show that a total of seven boxships operate the route providing weekly calls both north and southbound with the only other North America port being in Vancouver, Canada. 

In the spring of 2021, the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which oversees operations at the ports, was highlighting the available capacity in the seaports. They highlighted new and additional services by MSC, Wan Hai, CMA CGM, and Zim to the region. 

The additional calls and increased volumes helped the Northwest Seaport Alliance to report a nearly 16 percent increase in volumes year-to-date to over 2.8 million TEU. In the first nine months of the year, full imports grew 22.5 percent. In September, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma combined handled over 330,000 TEU, which represented a better than seven percent year-over-year increase.

Speaking in mid-October, the CEO of the Alliance, John Wolfe, reported that the ports were seeing “unprecedented times in the global supply chain.” He said they were taking a variety of steps to handle the increasing volumes including exploring with the terminal operators expanded gate hours. Terminals in Seattle had already added some extra night shifts, but in many cases were not accepting empties until vessels sailed making room for new arrivals. 

The port, which is making a long-term investment in new capacity at Terminal T5, in the interim is making space available at T5 to store containers. Wolfe however highlighted that the problems reached further than just the terminals. He noted that trucks to move the containers were in short supply and that warehouses in the region were full leaving little space to handle the surge of incoming containers.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Fellerman predicted, “It is still going to get worse before it gets better.”

Seattle, which typically had no vessel waiting outside the port, in recent weeks reports congestion with an average of 12 to 15 vessels anchored in Puget Sound awaiting terminal space. Berthing delays in Seattle were up to two weeks, Hapag-Lloyd advised customers while reporting that chassis utilization is running at 80 percent with street dwell running 8.4 days for 40-foot chassis at the Seattle port.

The new Terminal 5 is expected to open in 2022 expanding Seattle’s capacity. The construction project includes the installation of four of the largest cranes on the West Coast.