Bottlenecks flare in Barcelona as port battles rise in transshipment volumes

Source: Journal of Commerce
Date: 5th June 2024

Congestion at the world’s busiest transshipment hub of Singapore may be capturing the headlines, but “that’s not where the problems are being created,” according to the chief analyst for rate benchmarking platform Xeneta.

Xeneta said the greatest challenges and bottlenecks were seen at destination ports in the Mediterranean such as Barcelona, where carriers are offloading transshipment cargo.

“There are some issues at Tanger Med [Morocco] and Algeciras [Spain], but they are specialist transshipment ports,” Xeneta told the Journal of Commerce. “Barcelona, on the other hand, is being used for transshipment beyond its capacity and that’s causing a slow turnaround that carriers were trying to avoid by calling at the port instead of going further into the Mediterranean dead end.”

Call sizes in Barcelona during April were up 22% year over year, leading to a 155% increase in transshipment dwell time at the port compared with the same month last year, according to S&P Global’s Port Performance Program data. Average dwell times for transshipment cargo was five days at the end of January, peaking at 21 days on April 27 before dropping into May, when the average for the month was 12 days.

“As an effect of the situation in the Red Sea, we are observing increasing congestion in both sea and ground operations at the Port of Barcelona, resulting in unusually high density concerning transshipment, a reliable source told the Journal of Commerce this week.

There is a need to work closely with the port to ensure regular import and export shipments can be executed. Agility remains a critical asset in today’s volatile market.

APM Terminals Barcelona, the operator of one of the two main terminals in the port, told customers in an advisory that from this week the terminal will be increasing its working hours, with the possibility of extending open times further “under request, quotation acceptance and viability.”

Sharp rise in call sizes
Mediterranean transshipment hubs Tanger Med and Algeciras are better able to handle a sharp rise in call sizes — the number of container moves per port call — compared with a destination port such as Barcelona that is set up to handle domestic imports.

That can be seen in data from the Port Performance Program, where the average transshipment dwell time at Tanger Med at the end of January was 5.45 days, peaking at almost 17 days on March 28 before dropping to an average of 8.7 days in May.

Algeciras’ average transshipment dwell time on Jan. 31 stood at 3.37 days, rising to 8.79 on April 12 before dropping to an average of 5.9 days in May.

Carriers are reporting heavy berth congestion in Singapore, with average berthing delays of up to five days, which the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore attributed to carriers discharging higher volumes and omitting subsequent calls to catch up on schedules. “The new rule will provide relief to parties that should never have received a bill for detention or demurrage,” explained the FMC.

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