Soaring berthing times hobbling Northwest European ports productivity

Northwest European ports

Higher berth waiting times brought on by the pandemic has hampered productivity of Northwest European ports, according to new analysis from Drewry.

Reporting by Drewry has showed that average call duration at the main Northwest European ports increased by over 50 per cent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to their pre-pandemic average – before falling back to 37 per cent above pre-pandemic levels in May 2022.

Drewry’s findings indicate that average port time per call peaked at 2.3 days in February, 58 per cent above the pre-pandemic 2019 average.

“Weaker demand recovery, uncongested alternative ports and established feeder networks has meant far less vessel queueing in European ports,” said Eleanor Hadland, Drewry’s Head of Ports and Terminals Research.

“But a spike in vessel call exchanges has created a much larger headache for European terminal operators.”

© Drewry

The deterioration in Northwest European port productivity has occurred despite weaker throughput levels than during the pre-pandemic period.

Traffic across the region’s four main ports – Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven and Hamburg – was 3.5 per cent lower in Q1 2022 compared to the same period in 2019. The decline in the number of vessel calls was even steeper at 15.1 per cent, according to Drewry.

Average vessel size did not change much over this period, but Drewry estimates that average exchanges have considerably soared, rising by an average 14 per cent across the four main ports in the three years to Q1 2022.

Carriers have adjusted their schedules to reduce the number of port calls per rotation to counter the impact of demand patterns and risk of congestion, leading to large increases in load sizes as shown by Drewry’s analysis.

Average exchanges rose by over 20 per cent in Antwerp and 12 per cent in Bremerhaven over the three years to Q1 2022. As a result, both ports have seen their terminal productivity deteriorate over 30 per cent.

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