Terminal operators in Europe will soon face new pressures from mega-alliances, but have yet to show that their hinterland cargo can be delivered efficiently under the conditions envisaged. The FMC’s recent approval of the P3 alliance suggests that its services will become reality in all three proposed East-West routes by the middle of the year. Whatever shippers think of the development, Port Authorities and terminal operators will be challenged by its consequences, particularly in Europe. Port rationalisation so far announced by Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM means that much bigger chunks of Asian cargo will have to be discharged from every vessel,and then,just as importantly, processed through each gateway to its hinterland before the next arrives, possibly just a few days later.
The ability to berth vessels simultaneously will count for little if insufficient stack capacity is available to receive their cargo. In most cases, that means greater use of intermodal transport, as most EU roads a real ready congested. Berthing vessels on time also depends on them arriving on time, which, as regularly reported in Drewry’s Carrier Performance Insight, cannot be taken for granted, particularly in the case of MSC.
The problem of handling vessels over 14,000 teu is not new, only the scale of it is escalating, as evidenced by Evergreen’s plans to join the CKYH alliance between Asia and Europe this month, and the spate of ULCV ships still being ordered (see Table 1), all of which are earmarked for the Asia/Europe trade.
The G6 and CKYHE alliances will also have to become much more integrated than simple vessel sharing agreements in order to match P3’s efficiency, which means further port rationalisation. Like PS, their port calls will get fewer as vessels get bigger, so the cargo needing to be processed in favoured ports every week will inevitably escalate.