PSA Antwerp implements seven-day cargo rule as European ports prepare for Suez-related congestion

PSA Antwerp implements seven-day cargo rule as European ports prepare for Suez-related congestion
PSA Antwerp's Europa Terminal

PSA Antwerp has been forced to implement a seven-day cargo opening rule for export containers for all Middle and Far East vessels in response to the Suez Canal re-opening.

This means that PSA will not accept any export container more than seven days prior to a vessel’s confirmed ETA.

In practice, this yard opening time starts seven calendar days before the ETA of the deep sea vessel and will move along with changes in the ETA of the vessel.

PSA’s seven-day rule will be activated as of March 31 and will be in place until further notice.

Since before the Suez problem, many European ports including Antwerp have endured yard congestion due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in longer container dwell times.

However, the re-opening of the Suez Canal on Monday has resulted in a situation best described by the Swedish word ‘ketchupeffekt’ (ketchup effect) wherein not much happens for a long time, and then a lot happens at once.

Ships have started to pass through the canal, but there are still hundreds of ships left at the canal’s inlet and outlet waiting for their turn to pass.

Many ships will call at the ports of Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp almost simultaneously.

Simon Heaney, senior manager – container research at Drewry, said: “The smooth operation of ports is facilitated by planning. If you have less visibility in terms of how many ships are about to berth, that’s going to make planning harder for ports.

“The danger is once those ships are released, they all come at once and create another massive peak that the ports and terminals aren’t able to cope with. It’s going to take a lot of dialogue between shipping lines and ports about how they best manage that.”

The already-congested European ports lack the yard capacity to handle the large amount of calling ships and goods that are on the way and so further delays beyond the immediate Suez Canal situation are to be expected.

The Port of Gothenburg has begun preparations to both ensure fast transport of Scandinavian goods in addition to alleviating the coming congestion at the major European ports.

Terminal operator APM Terminals Nordic and the Gothenburg Port Authority have launched a new offer to the global shipping market.

Elvir Dzanic, Gothenburg Port Authority port executive, explained: “Instead of queuing in several European ports in a row, we now offer the opportunity to come directly to Gothenburg.

“Here, the shipping companies can unload their Scandinavian goods, which can then quickly reach their customers.”

In addition, the port has offered the opportunity to unload additional goods with other European destinations where the cargo can then be transhipped to smaller feeder vessels for further transport to other European ports.

Dennis Olesen, managing director at APM Terminals Nordic, said: “We still have capacity available at our terminal in Gothenburg so we can support in this challenging time and hopefully alleviate impact of the consequential delays that is to be expected both locally and globally.”

Shipping companies have also been offered a discount on this extra calls and Dzanic added: “Price is always a factor, and many have ended up with increased costs due to the Suez situation.

“The sooner we get back to a normal situation, the better it is for everyone in the logistics chain.”

The Port of Barcelona has also begun work on its contingency plan to respond to the increase in traffic once the ships that have been blocked by the Suez Canal arrive.

Currently, the port has seven weekly maritime services with different Asian destinations that pass through the Suez Canal.

Its contingency plan has been designed with the aim of ensuring that import and export flows are as agile as possible which will be achieved by increasing productivity at port terminals.

The plan involves the different actors of the port community of Barcelona – boat owners, terminals, stevedores, practitioners, mooring, etc – and of the logistics chain – logistics operators, land transport, rail transport, etc.

President of the Port of Barcelona, Mercè Conesa, stated that “it is in these specific episodes that the Port of Barcelona’s responsiveness and reliability are demonstrated.”

It took six days to dislodge the Ever Given and unblock the Suez Canal and estimates for how long it will take to clear the current backlog of 300 vessels range from four days to six days or more.