Red Sea Rerouting Causing Asian Port Congestion

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Diversions of container ships via the Cape of Good Hope has resulted in a continuous reconfiguration of port calls and vessel sizes on services as carriers adjust Asia to Europe loops to cope with the latest demands.

Fluctuating services configurations has seen congestion building at some ports as a combination of unexpected events and higher volumes increases pressure on infrastructure and the inland operations whose ability to cope with changeable volumes is causing backlogs and congestion in certain regions.

Drewry Shipping Consultants’ ports expert Eleanor Hadland told Seatrade Maritime News: “We are seeing some congestion hotspots emerging, and Red Sea diversions are a contributory factor. Overall, off-window arrivals have an adverse impact on terminal performance.”

Teu increased 

As a result, the dwell time at Jebel Ali for ships larger than 12,500 teu has increased from around 1.5 days in Q4 2023 to 2.5 days in Q1 2024. But Hadland adds that it is not just the size of the ships that is the problem, holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Ramadan, as well as the recent Dubai floods have added to the congestion levels too.

Volume of cargo discharged

Hadland also points to the volume of cargo being discharged which is challenging inland port infrastructure, including the trucking necessary to cope with increased freight and the storage of containers.

The Indian Subcontinent/Middle East and Southeast Asia regions account for 15% and 16% respectively of total global port congestion, said Linerlytica.

Dynamar analyst Darron Wadey confirmed the trend saying that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of regional congestion.

At Port Klang the fluctuating capacity levels were even more volatile. In Q2 2023 just under 30 ships called at the Malaysian facility, by Q1 this year that number had collapsed to around five vessels but shot up again in Q2 to 50 ships.

But for Asia to Europe services with wayport calls the capacity increased by about 400,000 teu to 3 million teu, in Q2 this year, but then nosedived more than 30% to a little under 2 million teu.

Hadland said these changes were constant and were having an impact on ports receiving cargo. In particular she said that the Red Sea diversions are still in transition. Initially, vessels heading to the Mediterranean were loaded so that East Med cargo was discharged first, that meant that ships diverting around the cape entered the Med and sailed east before discharging freight.

Vessel reconfigurations also have “logistical implications, not the least of these is that the cargo is not where it was intended to be and will require extra effort to get it where it has to go,” meaning that empty containers are in the wrong place.

Effectively the fear is that the emergent congestion in Asia will eventually arrive in European ports too.

Hadland also points to the volume of cargo being discharged which is challenging inland port infrastructure, including the trucking necessary to cope with increased freight and the storage of containers.

Jebel Ali is not the only facility to suffer congestion challenges with consultancy Linerlytica pointing to Southeast Asian ports, including Singapore and Port Klang recording increased vessel waiting times in the last two weeks.

The Indian Subcontinent/Middle East and Southeast Asia regions account for 15% and 16% respectively of total global port congestion, said Linerlytica.

Dynamar analyst Darron Wadey confirmed the trend saying that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of regional congestion.

“In fact, it appears to be widespread with ports east of Suez, as far as Ningbo, Shanghai, Singapore, Port Klang and Dubai, for example. It has already been more noticeable for the year-to-date, but seemed to have been easing as May approached,” he added.

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Source: Seatrade