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Avalanche of containers bound for European ports sparks congestion fears

Ketchupeffekt is the Swedish term used by the port of Gothenburg to describe the avalanche of containers set to flood European ports in the coming weeks.

Ketchup effect – as many can imagine – describes a situation or event where not much happens for a long time, and then a lot happens at once. The significance of ketchup will be clear to anyone who has ever tried to pour the sauce from a glass bottle — usually it takes several seconds before any comes out, and then you get a huge amount.


The port of Gothenburg used the term in warning of inevitable further congestion at Europe’s gateway ports in the wake of the freeing of the 20,388 teu Ever Given yesterday, uncorking nearly a week’s logjam on the key trade artery linking Asia with Europe.

The Ever Given is now at the Great Bitter Lake where investigations are ongoing. Hundreds of ships are readying to pass it by as the Suez Canal Authority aims to clear the 350+ ship backlog in just four days. Already more than 80 ships have passed by shipping’s most famous vessel in the past 14 hours with another 85 due to transit the canal later today.

According to data from project 44 there was a total of $83.21bn worth of containerised goods stuck around the canal over the past week.

Lars Jensen, founder of SeaIntelligence Consulting, writing on LinkedIn, warned of the ripple effects North European ports can expect in the coming days and weeks as container shipping grapples to get its schedules back into shape.

In a few days, vessel arrivals in North Europe will drop sharply as the impact of the closure ripples through. This will last a week.

After that, vessels will arrive in a large spike from the opening of the canal, creating significant pressure on ports, Jensen warned. This will then be followed by a shortfall, followed by another spike when the delayed ships who have taken the Cape of Good Hope detour arrive.

Further afield, the delays and congestion will also impact the availability of available containers in Asia.

Many major European ports are already under severe duress.

In an update yesterday to clients, Hapag-Lloyd warned: “The ongoing and unchanged congestions and delays in most European ports are leading to persistent and extreme delays of ocean vessels at the PSA terminals in Antwerp. This situation has a direct impact on the performance and yard utilization capacity. With last week’s event in the Suez Canal, we know for sure that again vessels will be delayed and that the pressure on our terminals will further increase.”

PSA Antwerp, the Singapore terminal operator’s flagship European facility, has been forced to implement a seven day cargo opening rule for export containers for all Middle and Far East vessels. This means that PSA will not accept any export container more than seven days prior vessels confirmed eta. Other ports are likely to follow suit.

Caroline Becquart, senior vice president at Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the world’s second largest containerline, warned over the weekend of the severe challenges to global supply chains the grounding had created.

“There’s no doubt that the current Suez Canal blockage is going to result in one of the biggest disruptions to global trade in recent years,” Becquart said, adding: “We envisage the second quarter of 2021 being more disrupted than the first three months, and perhaps even more challenging than it was at the end of last year. Companies should expect the Suez blockage to lead to a constriction in shipping capacity and equipment, and consequently, some deterioration in supply chain reliability issues over the coming months.”

Fitch Ratings said on Monday that reinsurers could face losses totalling hundreds of millions of euros from the Ever Given blockage.

Insurance and reinsurance claims would likely mainly be for damage to the Ever Given itself and to the canal, as well as dredging costs.

UK Club is the P&I insurer for the Ever Given while the ship’s hull is insured by Japan’s MS&AD Insurance Group.

Experts from the Panama flag and the Suez Canal Authority are beginning their investigations into how the giant Ever Given managed to get its bow lodged in the eastern bank of the canal.

The ship’s owner, manager and operator have cited high winds while the Suez Canal Authority has hinted it suspects human or mechanical error. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) confirmed yesterday the 25 crew of the vessel were not yet over-contract, and all were onboard for less than six months.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

Comments

  1. Good read there, Sam. I’m glad you reported about the crew’s contract status at the article’s end. I was wondering about the “fatigue” factor in all this, too. In fact, I wonder how much rest the Suez Pilot(s) had prior to reporting onboard for this job. It’s the number one thing most investigators ask upon start of the initial investigation in the USA.

    The commentary from people all over the globe watching this event and the voluminous number of arm-chair mariners with their professional assessment of what went wrong, the global conspiracies, and how the salvors should conduct their job, have all been amusing to say the least!

    It will be years before we learn what “officially” went wrong … at least on paper. The scale of insurance claims and the number of lawsuits will stagger the imagination. Lawyers get paid by the hour. So there will be no hurry to understand the lessons learned from the accident, as far as the Admiralty courts are concerned.

    But as they say in our favorite TV Football games, “Lets go to the video playback!”

    It’s obvious watching the AIS track of the ship the moment she began her canal transit, she was struggling to stay in the canal center. Maybe it was the wind. Maybe it was just a poor job of maneuvering, who knows? (Though the VDR will tell us later on. Maybe.) Ask any Ship Pilot … these ULCS class of vessels are a handful for everyone. I don’t care who you are. Add in any type of wind, especially on the beam, and your job gets even more exciting. The video shows the ship struggling to get away from the western bank from the start and then the Pilot opts to use more engine power to finally break free. But he leaves more power on too long. So now the ship goes from the regulated 8-9 knots of transit speed, up to 13 knots!?!

    Yikes!? Thats exactly the way to INCREASE the problems you’re about to have and exacerbate the initial reason you are struggling to begin with. It took approximately 30 minutes from entry to aground. I imagine on the bridge of the EVER GIVEN, the tension felt by the Pilot and Ship’s Officers must have been excruciating. The entire time. On the cusp of fixing the problems associated with bank cushion on the bow and bank suction on the stern of this monstrous ship, there is a brief period where the ship settles into the middle of the canal and all seems right.

    But she continues on at a higher than intended rate of speed. As we suspect, she quickly starts “feeling the bank” again, and before long starts doing the proverbial “bouncing” off one side to the other. Eventually the Pilot cannot control her and recover and she runs hard aground. So much so she floods her bow thruster compartment and forward void space.

    That’s a helluva bump, with all that weight behind it.

    The SCA has much to learn from this. Perhaps making the tugs that currently “follow” the ships of this class with no line made fast … to embracing Pilot and Tug emergency maneuver training in escort mode that is used elsewhere around the world. There are ample number of schools that have ‘manned-model’ training (and even computer simulation!). They are excellent for both new mariners and older ones wishing to learn a few new tricks, too. I genuinely believe that, had this been in effect, the Suez Pilot may have been able to mitigate the initial maneuvering/speed problem, or at least decrease the impact of the grounding.

    There are currently 40+ new ULCS on order at Asian shipyards. EVERGREEN just ordered several themselves! There will be many more of these ships running around the globe. This accident, and similar types of disasters, will inevitably happen again. Anywhere at anytime. Maybe even in the Suez Canal next month, who knows??? How will our industry learn from this accident and what type of preventative measures will we take to minimize the likelihood of a global logistical nightmare from occurring again? I hate to be a pessimist, but I don’t think many people care. Those of us in the this industry who have a “safety culture” mindset are very concerned. But there are far more operational people who simply are unaware or don’t bother to concern themselves. Pretty sad.

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