An Ace Up Our Sleeve

In a Reuters story on June 14th, Anna Mudeva gives us a look at conditions that are developing in European ports. It’s almost hopeless, by the looks of things. She writes:

“AMSTERDAM: The biggest ports in Europe are facing increasing chaotic congestion and delays in deliveries because they have failed to expand quickly enough to handle booming container imports from Asia. Felixstowe and Southampton in Britain, Rotterdam and Hamburg, among the biggest ports in Europe, have all had to turn away container ships this year because of a lack of docking space, industry officials said. Barge operators are facing delays in Rotterdam and Antwerp, Belgium, with the waiting time reaching more than two days in the Netherlands last week. Trucks that carry containers inland wait for hours in Rotterdam. Industry officials say that the only remedy for congestion is to expand terminal capacity to cope with booming exports of manufactured goods from China. But expansion projects are not moving fast enough to keep up with the trade flow.

“‘The future doesn’t look very bright for container shipping at Europe’s biggest ports ,’ Johan Blinde, manager operations at Hanjin Shipping’s Dutch office, said.

“According to data from CLECAT, the European association for transport, logistics and customs service, container shipping is expected to grow 7.8 percent a year through 2011, while European port capacity is seen rising only 4.2 percent …”

“In the first quarter of 2007, 73 percent of container ships arrived late in European ports because of docking delays, up from 45 percent in the comparable period last year, according to data from Drewry Shipping Consultants. ‘The Far East trade is booming,’ said Jan Westerhoud, president of ECT, the main container terminal operator at Rotterdam’s port, adding that the huge volume sometimes resulted in ‘significant delays’.

“Container cargo traffic at Rotterdam grew 15 percent each year in 2004 and 2005 as the world economy grew more on the steel boxes that help lower transport costs but require new infrastructure, deep-water docks and more storage space. The rise in container volume slowed to 4 percent in Rotterdam last year but jumped 10 percent in the first months of this year, while Antwerp registered 18 percent growth in the first quarter. Hamburg, the second-biggest container port in Europe after Rotterdam, reported a 9.6 percent increase last year. The Rotterdam port plans to invest $ 3.7 billion to add 10 percent of reclaimed sea land to its existing 25,940 acres. The project, which was initially expected to kick off in 2002, has been delayed until 2008 with completion in 2012, because of court battles over environmental concerns.

“Shippers said capacity was needed much sooner.

“‘It’s far too late,’ Blinde said …”

[Maybe so, over there, but over here we have an ace up our sleeve and it’s time to play it.]