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Weakening market conditions sees a return to pre-pandemic cargo exchange levels

The drop off in cargo demand has enabled container carriers to revert to more normalised call patterns which has underpinned the reduction in congestion across the main import markets.

Drewry’s latest analysis of the global container ports market shows a rapid correction to pre-pandemic call sizes and vessel exchanges across both the North American and European markets.

This in turn has supported the improvement in vessel turnaround times, with steep falls in pre-berth waiting time and vessels also now spending less time on berth to complete cargo operations. This is based on the latest analysis from Drewry’s Ports and Terminals Insight.

North America

Despite lower volumes, average call sizes in the West Coast North America market generally remain above 2019 average levels.

But average call sizes and vessel exchanges have dropped below the 2019 average level in New York and Norfolk, though remain materially higher in Savannah and Houston which are still experiencing some congestion (see chart below).

Drewry estimates that North American port throughput declined by as much as 10% in March, bringing the YoY contraction to 28%. And on a 12-month rolling average basis, the region saw a 5% fall over the period to March 2023.

North Europe

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, the average cargo exchange recorded at Bremerhaven fell below 2019 average levels in January 2023, with average box exchange falling to 15% of vessel capacity (vs. 2019 average 19%).

While average exchange at Le Havre remains below the levels recorded at Antwerp-Bruges and Bremerhaven, the French port recorded call sizes in excess of 2019 average between November 2020 and February 2023.

Drewry estimates that European container port throughput fell 8% MoM in March, while the 12-month rolling average showed a contraction of 6%.

The decline in cargo exchanges has occurred despite a significant rise in blank sailings, which reached a high in February when the cancellation rate across East-West trades peaked at 24%, according to Drewry estimates. However, the incidence of blank sailings has since receded.

Drewry anticipates further normalisation of call sizes and cargo exchanges, facilitated by softening cargo demand and the looming arrival of newbuild capacity, despite the support of peak season trade.

Ports and Terminals Insight – Port industry performance and trends

The Ports and Terminal Insight is a quarterly report (PDF) covering the latest developments in the container ports and terminals market, accompanied by a new monthly report (PDF) providing regular port congestion and performance monitoring (powered by Drewry AIS analytics). It looks behind the data and topical issues to answer both the ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ questions that matter most to senior industry stakeholders.
Source: Drewry

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