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Drewry: P3 ports in Europe something of a puzzle

Bigger but fewer ships with tens of thousands of containers to be loaded at once is just one of the challenges awaiting carriers and ports. The P3 alliance's European ports alone constitute a puzzle, says Drewry.

Photo: Hamborg Havn

China Shipping's Post-Panamax CSCL Le Havre recently had to unload and load a total of 11,600 teu in the Port of Hamburg, thus documenting - according to Drewry - the colossal challenges the container industry is facing. Namely that the ships are getting bigger and bigger, with room for more and more containers. Right now around 18,000 teu, though Maersk Line's Triple-E ships are not yet sailing with full loads.

But as the ships are growing and getting filled, the pressure on the ports' abilities to handle the many containers all at once is increasing. Both in terms of getting containers on and off the ships, but also in relation to securing the entire hinterland infrastructure. And even though the British analyst agency in a review of the container ports and the still-increasing ships points out that the 11,600 teu represented an unusual incident, this might still serve as a warning for what lies ahead.

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Another challenge is the growing alliances, which - like the bigger ships - are looking to benefit from economies of scale. This development helps increase the trend toward fewer but bigger ships, thus challenging the ports even further. This concentration could boost the trade in few, major ports, while other ports might have to say goodbye to some of their revenue.

Difficult to streamline

As Drewry says, this also represents a challenge for the new alliances, such as the biggest of them all, P3, with Maersk Line, MSC, and CMA CGM. Even though the launch date for the alliance has been postponed to the fall, the carriers are currently in the midst of looking at networks and joint services. And as Drewry points out, concentrating the port network on, for instance, the US West Coast and Northern Europe could become something of a puzzle for the three carriers.

"The formation and expansion of alliances has resulted in many carriers (or related terminal companies) having terminal interests which do not neatly correspond with those of their alliance partners. This is especially challenging on the USWC with its history of each carrier having its own terminal in each main port, but the complexity is also evident elsewhere, for example for the P3 Alliance in North Europe. Whilst each P3 carrier has a direct or indirect connection to a number of Benelux and German terminals, none of them coincide. Streamlining and unifying terminal facilities, ownership and usage by alliances is not a straightforward task therefore."

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