Increased transhipment traffic adding to congestion woes at Barcelona

Source: The Loadstar
Date: 18th June 2024

One of the key reasons Barcelona appears to be suffering greater levels of congestion than many regional competitors is a near-toxic mix of increased transhipment traffic on top of its role as a gateway for local traffic.

“The growth in transhipment would be one thing, if it weren’t also for the gateway traffic the port as to handle – it can be challenging for a terminal operator when those two come together suddenly,” Xeneta told The Loadstar during TOC Europe 24 event in Rotterdam.

The Barcelona Port Authority said congestion had become so severe for some importers that “we are now seeing a few products leave the container market and going back to being shipping in bulk, such as low-value chemicals”.

However, at the same time, he said new types of products were being containerised, such as the surging number of imported Chinese electric vehicles.

30,000 cars arrived in Barcelona last year in containers, about 10,000 containers in total. It’s around the same level this year, maybe fewer.

The port had been handling bigger vessels over the past couple of years, which had led to a much larger number of container exchanges per call.

There are often exchanges of 10,000 to 12,000 containers in a single call.

This is reflected in a more than 25% year-on-year increase in throughput across Barcelona’s three box terminals, which now stands at just under 1.3m teu, compared with just over 1m teu at this point last year.

All of that growth is transhipment going to the eastern Mediterranean. Traffic from Turkey to the western Mediterranean is also increasing a lot, same with Morroco, and Inditex is moving greater numbers of containers through Barcelona. As a result, we are facing congestion levels we haven’t seen before.

According to the eeSea liner database, as of today, some 54% of vessels are waiting for a berth in Barcelona, compared with 46% at Valencia, 43% at Algeciras and 38% at Tanger Med.

There is no room for maneuvering the containers around the yards, although we are also trying to create inland locations for further capacity.

Meanwhile, in response to the blockages, Barcelona’s container terminal operators have expanded their gate hours and hired more dockers, while also introducing “measures to encourage freight forwarders and carriers to evacuate containers from the terminal earlier, especially empties”.

“Berthing priority will also be given to the largest vessels rather than operating on the traditional first-come, first-service basis.

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