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Asian port congestion plays havoc for carriers, adding costs, disrupting operations    15/05/2018
Port congestion at some Asian ports is causing a massive headache for container lines, disrupting sailing schedules, adding to shipping costs, and forcing at least one carrier to arrange a special feeder service to tranship at less affected ports.

Chittagong port

Chittagong port, one of those worst affected, with waiting times of up to a week. Credit: Chittagong Port Authority

Carriers said Bangkok, Chittagong, Calcutta, and Shanghai were among the worst affected ports, with berthing delays of about a week. While part of the problem has been caused by growing container volumes, lines also point to inefficient operations and inadequate infrastructure, exacerbated by bad weather, particularly in eastern China.

“The impact is huge,” said Gavin To, vice-president of Taiwan’s TS Lines. He said the carrier incurred extra bunker and hire charges and faced difficulties recovering sailing schedules.

“Congestion is a big issue at some Asian ports: Bangkok and Chittagong have some of the worst delays,” said Danny Hoffmann, managing director of intra-Asia carrier Gold Star Line.

Unlike most ports, Chittagong and Bangkok operate berths on a ‘first come, first served’ basis rather than allowing carriers to pre-book a berthing window.

“We are struggling. We do try to rationalise cargoes. It’s a big problem in Bangkok,” Hoffmann told Fairplay.

Delays vary from week to week, depending on the number of ships waiting to berth, said Lim Jing Chee, executive director of ACL, the feeder subsidiary of Singapore’s Pacific International Lines.

The current waiting time at Chittagong is up to a week.

“There are a total of 57 geared and 7 gearless ships registered with Chittagong Port Authority [CPA] to call at Chittagong. The port simply can’t cope, despite CPA controlling the approval of vessel licences to call,” Lim told Fairplay

Productivity is lower at Bangkok Port “and Port Authority of Thailand is always taking out berths for repairs and the maintenance of equipment such as gantry cranes,” he added.

Yanir Landenberg, Gold Star Line’s director of finance and administration, said, “Bangkok recently upgraded the cranes, which resulted in lower activity because not all of them were fully active,” Gold Star Line’s Landenberg said.

Carriers said the problems only affected Bangkok Port, in the city. There are no problems at Laem Chabang or Bangkok Modern Terminal.

Chittagong has ordered additional cranes but they have yet to be commissioned, and while geared vessels can also use the general cargo berth and new container terminal at Chittagong, there are still delays.

“The CPA has announced ambitious plans to develop new container terminals plus a deepsea mega-terminal, but these will obviously be further down the road. In the meantime, we see no relief from the present congestion,” Lim said. 

As both Chittagong and Bangkok are river ports, they are also draught-restricted, which adds to the difficulties. So-called Chittagongmax vessels are limited to a draught of 6.5–7 m, while Bangkok can handle larger ships up to about 9 m draught, said Landenberg.

Gold Star Line has used larger vessels where possible to clear backlogs of cargo. And at Kolkata it has been affected by congestion to the extent it is now seeking alternative ports within a 300 km range to use as alternatives.

Bad weather in China has recently caused carriers significant problems at Shanghai and Ningbo. “Yangshan and Waigaoqiao in Shanghai have both been affected and we’ve had to wait five days to berth,” Hoffmann said.

Gold Star Line has been forced to bypass Shanghai to maintain the reliability of its intra-Asia services. “Where we’ve had three or four services calling at Shanghai, we’ve had to use a single ship to load all the cargo in Shanghai and tranship the boxes on to these services elsewhere. This gives us huge pressure and still costs money,” Hoffmann said. “There’s no solution.”

Hapag-Lloyd and APL said intense fog and heavy winds had affected port operations and vessel services last week at Shanghai, Ningbo, and Qingdao, causing disruption to port operations and vessel services.

APL said port operations at Waigaoqiao and Yangshan were being delayed by at least three days, with delayed opening hours for container yards.

“Port congestion is a burden from commercial, financial, operational, and logistics perspectives. The carriers will have to find solutions to compromise for these costs,” Landenberg said.


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