Global port congestion driving container carriers to cancel sailings during Chinese NY

Ocean carriers are to cancel several headhaul sailings to North Europe around the Chinese New Year holiday next month. It is a blow for beleaguered shippers that have managed, at great expense, to secure space on sailings that won’t happen. 2M partners Maersk and MSC intend to blank three advertised sailings from Asia to North Europe in weeks 5-7, including one vessel that will be allowed to ‘slide’ into the following week, maintaining existing bookings.

And Ocean Alliance member CMA CGM will also skip three loops during the same period. MSC said the blankings were necessary “due to the slowdown in demand during CNY” as well as the “challenging congestion across the supply chain”.

Supply chain overheated due to container delays

Maersk advised its customers that the blankings were needed to “improve schedule reliability”, to “free up these services for schedule recovery measures” in response to “severe port congestion and equipment limitations”.

The blanked 2M sailings are: the Maersk Herrera on the AE55/Griffin loop, scheduled to sail from Shanghai on 11 February; the Maersk Enshi (AE6/Lion) due to depart Busan on 13 February; and the Estelle Maersk (AE7/Condor) due to leave Ningbo on 15 February.

A carrier source told The Loadstar he thought it was more to do with the 2M wanting to slow down an overheated supply chain and to ease the pressure on equipment and port congestion in North Europe.

Restoring sailing schedules by carriers is top priority, not blanking sailings

“I can only speak for our ships, and they are fully booked right the way through the CNY,” said the contact. “Plus, there has been so much cargo rolled over recently that it can’t be a question of reduced demand, so my guess is that they want to get some sort of schedule back by cutting out the sailings.”

Indeed, Simon Sundboell, founder of liner database eeSea, told The Loadstar today schedule reliability on the route was “worse than we’ve seen in a long time”. He added: “These blanks are necessary and required scheduling recovery measures, they’re not meant to take out capacity.”

Prior to the announcement of the blankings, Asia-North Europe shippers had been encouraged by news of new and additional services and tentative signs that the equipment shortage crisis was at last beginning to improve.

HMM is reported to have deployed an extra loader at the end of the month from Busan to Hamburg to cater for the cargo overflows of South Korean shippers after pressure from their government.

Container equipment availability improving slightly over the last month

And shippers have told The Loadstar that Chinese regional carrier China United Lines is in advanced planning stages to launch a standalone service to North Europe, deploying a string of small feeder vessels.

Meanwhile, the acute equipment shortage crisis is easing, according to the latest survey by Container xChange. Its Container Availability Index (CAx) saw a considerable improvement this month for Shanghai, albeit after the record lows of December.

“With a growth of 37.5% for 40ft high-cubes, and even 200% for standard 40fts, in January, the CAx finally shows a positive trend for shippers and forwarders who are looking for equipment in Shanghai. With the vast increase we’re seeing in container availability, Shanghai is on its way back to normal levels,” said David Amezquita, head of data insights, who added that a similar picture was emerging across other main Chinese hubs.