New Shipping Alliances Bringing Chaos to Asia-Europe Tradelanes

shipping containers
File photo. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Mike Wackett (The Loadstar) – “Organised chaos” – that’s how one carrier describes the Asia-Europe schedules of the Ocean and THE alliances, believing there’s very little hope of vessels hitting itineraries before June.

The source, an alliance member, told The Loadstar the transition of ships and containers from previous schedules to their new alliance hubs had proved more complex than expected – the result being containers stranded at terminals between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

He admitted that phasing-in and -out had been “a disaster”, resulting in big gaps appearing in network coverage.

“We are chartering-in or using commercial feeders where we are allowed to,” he said, “but it is tough to get approval, and sometimes the containers will just have to stay on the quay until the next big ship call.”

He added that where an alliance was no longer calling at a terminal, a “best-cost option” to repatriate containers was being applied.

And ultra-large containerships running off-schedule and bunching is said by many to be the root cause of the congestion at the world’s biggest container port, Shanghai.

Anecdotal reports to The Loadstar suggest ships are waiting at anchor for up to three days to get onto berths, a situation exacerbated by dense fog and congestion is now said to be spreading to other major Chinese ports, such as Ningbo and Qingdao.

Carriers are diverting vessels from the congested ports and the cargo operations of some ships that reach a berth is often subject to a “cut and run” strategy, leading to short shipments and carried-over boxes.

One forwarder source provided The Loadstar with an example: OOCL, part of the Ocean Alliance, had advertised a full westbound service on a vessel on its LL3 loop into Southampton. At the last minute, the carrier advised that the ship would now no longer accommodate westbound bookings.

“We are seeing gaps in schedules across both THE and the Ocean alliances of up to two weeks, depending on the destination,” said the forwarder, adding that 2M schedules were also being affected.

Forwarders are complaining more and more about poor communication from both carriers and terminals, with many suggesting that liner shipping is a “black hole” which leads to frustrated shippers and disappointed end consumers.

Meanwhile, ports in North Europe that have been prone to bouts of severe berth and landside congestion during the dramatic upsizing of containerships, will fear the knock-on effect of delayed arrivals of ULCVs competing for berth space. As a result, landside operations will be impaired, creating a vicious circle of slower ship and port operations.

One Felixstowe-calling feeder operator told The Loadstar this morning he was “dreading” congestion at the container port, which would mean a return of lengthy berthing delays and consequential loss-making voyages.

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