Capacity problems loom as transhipment boxes clog major West Med hubs

Source: The Loadstar
Date: 9th May 2024

Fears of widespread congestion across west Mediterranean container ports may have abated for the present but a prolonged continuation of the Red Sea crisis could place serious pressure on the region’s port capacity.

“Carriers are optimising their networks constantly, because obviously with the de facto closure of the Suez Canal, they wouldn’t let the ultra-large container ships go into a dead end all the time, as in going to the eastern part of the Med, if they can avoid that,” Xeneta chief analyst told this week’s Loadstar Podcast.

“We have seen Algeciras, Tanger Med, Barcelona, also Valencia and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, being, say, overly used for transhipment.

“In particular the port of Barcelona,” Xeneta chief analyst added.

Xeneta volume data on Q1 24 throughput at the leading Spanish ports supports this: transhipment traffic in Barcelona was up year on year by 22%, 64% and 63% in January, February and March, respectively.

However, if the port is to witness that kind of volume growth for the rest of the year, it is likely to become swamped with containers. According to the eeSea liner database, its three container terminals handled 3.4m teu in 2023, and a 60% increase on that would see another 2m teu pass over the quays – a good 500,000 teu above design capacity.

“Analysts are trying to get our head around the problems those ports are facing right now when they need space inside for transhipments, which they do not have, while carriers are also engaging more feeder services in the Med,” Xeneta chief analyst said.

Xeneta data showed transhipment traffic also increased markedly at Algeciras, Valencia and Las Palmas during the first three months of the year – Algeciras averaged a growth rate of 7%, indicating that last year’s annual throughput of 4.m teu would rise to just over 5m teu. The port has an annual capacity of 5.8m teu.

At Valencia, growth in the first quarter averaged 18%, suggesting last year’s throughput of 4.8m teu would increase to nearly 5.7m teu at a port which currently boasts a combined capacity of 5.86m teu, promising a dangerously high level of utilisation.

Valencia is in the early stages of developing a €2.5bn fourth container terminal set to be operated by MSC’s port arm, TIL, which will add an annual capacity of 5m teu. However, the port authority is currently evaluating bids for its construction, and its full opening is likely to be several years away.

At the Canary Islands hub of Las Palmas, transhipment traffic grew by an average 33% in the first quarter, suggesting last year’s throughput of 1.2m teu could rise to 1.6m teu, which is the port’s current capacity.

Via the eeSea liner database, The Loadstar did a quick survey of what other terminal capacity might be available to shippers in the region if boxes begin to seriously pile up at the main hubs.

The most obvious option is the Morrocan hub of Tanger Med, which has a capacity of 10.4m teu. However, last year it handled 8.6m, representing utilisation of 83%, so even a relatively small increase in volumes could fill it up.

Elsewhere, the port of Sines in southern Portugal is operated by a joint-venture between PSA and TIL and saw throughput reach 1.3m teu last year, but it does boast 2.7m teu of total capacity.

What remains is the intriguing possibility that full-scale container operations could return to the ports of Malaga and Castellon, which had seen more significant volumes until around five years ago, when Tanger Med introduced large-scale tranches of capacity.

According to eeSea, Malaga has around 900,000 teu of capacity, but last year handled a mere 40,000 teu and has two just services – Hapag-Lloyd’s Europe-west coast South America WMX and a Maersk feeder string.

NEOLink cooperated with our order processing system. He did not replace it or force solutions. Logfret did it better than other companies on the market – it adapted its system to ours. Logfret didn’t come to us saying, “We have this solution, and you either use it or we won’t cooperate.

Procurement Director

Pumps Manufacturer

We made a huge improvement in global visibility with a global platform—anyone can log into NEOLink and look at a shipment anytime, anywhere in the world. We wanted a freight forwarder with a good technology platform, which could handle the complexities of our business and we found NEOLink!

A global leader in performance materials and specialty chemicals

My suppliers have less or zero experience with international logistics. Thus, not able to create proper documentation which leads to tremendous delay. Thanks to Logfret who provide training to all suppliers and work with us to build up a consolidation hub to reduce transportation costs significantly.

One of the world’s leading designers, manufacturers and distributors of ride control products