Frustrated Shippers Say No End in Site to Barge Congestion at Northern European Ports

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Photo: Shutterstock / VanderWolf Images

By Alexander Whiteman (The Loadstar) – Shippers say they feel powerless over the barge congestion crisis in northern Europe – one believing there may be no early solution.

Stanley Black & Decker’s senior transportation manager for EMEA-ANZ, David Lenaers, told The Loadstar congestion at Antwerp had been a problem since last year.

“Although things may have seen a slight improvement over the last month, delays persist,” he said.

“Furthermore, it seems there is no immediate solution in sight – with shippers being left out of the discussion and nobody willing to talk to, or represent, us.”

Dutch barge operator Contargo last week claimed barges were waiting up to five days for container loading and unloading, which had led to the imposition of a €19.50 container surcharge.

Mr Lenaers said delays of five to seven days had become increasingly frequent, with peak periods seeing even more severe congestion.

He said whenever he tried to speak to the inland terminals about the delays, they had directed him to the ocean carriers, who pointed him back to the inland terminals and port authorities.

“They continue to blame each other, but our biggest concern remains the lack of alternatives. We have no other option but road, and this has its own problems,” he continued.

“The roads in Belgium already suffer from heavy congestion and by using trucks we too would be creating bottlenecks at the port of Antwerp, not to mention the costs involved.”

Tool supplier Stanley Black & Decker has its main warehouse in Tessenderlo, between Antwerp and Liege, approximately 5-6km by road from the BCTN-operated Meerhout inland terminal on the Albert Canal.

“Various factors make using the canal the quickest form of transport. We have the goods delivered to Meerhout and then truck them the last few kilometres,” Mr Lenaers said. “If we were to truck them the whole way, it would become a 50km trip, which not only delays delivery but is also prohibitively expensive.

“For urgent deliveries, we have had to do this, and it remains a possibility in future cases where cargo cannot come by barge, but this is not sustainable in the long term.”

Another shipper also told The Loadstar the barge congestion had been problematic.

Mr Lenaers said there were no other ways for shippers to offset its impact, nor could they find a direct correlation between the delays and loss of sales.

Port of Antwerp said it was “well aware” of barge delays, claiming this was down to several factors, including a shortage of dock labour and capacity as a result of the rising volumes of shipping.

One inland terminal operator told The Loadstar congestion in Antwerp had turned into a “real disaster”.

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