Thursday, November 20, 2014

Port Situation Varies as US Freight Slows UK Sees Fight for Share and Germany Gets New Organisation

Container Terminals Worldwide Facing Vastly Different Scenarios
Shipping News Feature

US – UK – GERMANY – The situation in the world’s container shipping ports presents a wildly different picture at the moment. On the West Coast of America there is still considerable unrest in the twenty nine or so ports from Seattle right down to San Diego as the contract issues between the representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the employers drag on. A year ago we predicted that a similar dispute on the East Coast might be a portent for this year’s negotiations, as the main contract renewal for the Eastern dock workers fell due in July, and now freight movement has slowed to a crawl in many locations.

In the dispute in 2013 the threat that President Obama might invoke the Taft Hartley act, which imposes a cooling off period on both parties as President George W Bush had done a decade or so previously, prompted a gathering of minds in the presence of Federal arbitrators and the situation was quickly resolved. This time however it appears the President has decided against interfering leaving both sides to get on with it despite a request from the National Retail Federation to do so.

Better news in the UK where Britain’s newest deep water container port, the DP World funded London Gateway project, confirmed that it has bagged a new service. From December the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which has just collected the Lloyd’s Loading List Award for Containerline of the Year for the second successive year, will switch its South Africa to UK/Northwest Europe service from its current call at Felixstowe.

The first vessel to arrive on the loop will be the MSC Rita due on December 7 and the port also became the destination of choice this month for another brand new service with the arrival of the Cap Beaufort, a Hamburg Süd ship serving the new route connecting Northern Europe with Mexico, Central America and Colombia, the port rotation being Antwerp, London Gateway, Hamburg, Altamira, Veracruz, Puerto Limon, Cartagena, Marin, Antwerp.

The new service will shift large quantities of time critical fruit and fresh produce and adds to another gain seen for London Gateway with the reconfigured Europe-Middle East/India (IMEX) service offerings from Chilean line CSAV joining the established EPIC service. The IMEX Sling 1, starting this month will be served by eight 5,500-6,500 TEU vessels. It will cover key ports in North Europe, the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, Pakistan and India West Coast. It will also offer two hubs in the Mediterranean, extending CSAV’s presence and the opportunities for shippers in this region.

At Southampton, Associated British Ports says the port is ready to handle the biggest ships in the world today and long into the future after a £40 million dredging project. The approach channel which links the port to the international shipping lanes has been both deepened and widened to increase capacity. The new configuration will allow access to vessels with 15.5 metre draught and is the final piece of the project to enhance capability at the container terminal that is operated by DP World. The SCT 5 berth has a 500m long deep-water quay and is purpose built to cater for the largest ships in the world. As well as deep-water access, it is also equipped with the latest cranes, capable of reaching across vessels 24 containers wide.

Achieving the new dimensions meant removing more than five million cubic metres of material, 20% of which was utilised in creating a new breakwater in Cowes Harbour or placed in an existing licensed aggregate site for future re-use.

The problems of managing the throughput of vessels at the Port of Hamburg however are somewhat different and the inception of the Nautical Terminal Coordination (NTK), there is now a body in place to coordinate the centralised operations of the largest ships before a vessel proceeds up the estuary of the river Elbe. The new body is tasked with monitoring all ship movements, including all vessel types which are subject to widely differing restrictions and regulations and avoiding situations liable to cause delays or even potentially dangerous accident scenarios.

Hamburg has seen big problems with congestion of late and as the depth of the river rises and falls with the tide so the clearance under Köhlbrand Bridge varies accordingly, whilst vessels that might safely pass in one situation may be in trouble if another is due to leave the quayside at a certain hour. The whole scene has the potential for confusion at a port which has seen turnover of ultra large vessels discharging rise by over 50% in just six years prompting the commissioning of the NTK which will look at all criteria to ensure safe passage in the crowded waterway.

Photo: Vessels pass on the River Elbe Courtesy of the Port of Hamburg.