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International Forwarding Association Blog » Sea freight in Europe » Port Congestions Pose Challenges in Ocean Freight Forwarding

Port Congestions Pose Challenges in Ocean Freight Forwarding

Ports play are essential for sea freight in Europe, a major hub for international imports and exports. But increasing congestion at these ports is becoming a pressing concern. Major contributors include the increasing size of modern vessels, labor disputes, and the complexities of customs and regulatory procedures.


Evolution of Vessel Size and Port Readiness

As the economics of shipping evolve, the industry has witnessed a shift towards larger vessels. These behemoths reduce operational costs but pose a fresh set of challenges for ports. To accommodate these mammoth ships, ports need deeper drafts, broader berths, and more powerful cranes. Rotterdam’s response to this trend provides an illuminating example: the port invested in the Maasvlakte 2 project, an expansion of the port area with deeper berths to accommodate larger vessels and advanced crane technologies for efficient cargo offloading.

Additionally, the port incorporated Super Post-Panamax cranes that stand at an impressive height of 127.5 metres. Operating on quays stretching over a kilometer in length, these cranes are tailored for the gargantuan Ultra Large Container Ships (ULCSs). They have a span covering 24 rows of containers and boast a unique double trolley system which enhances their operational efficiency.


Disruptions from Labor Disputes

When labor disputes arise, typically stemming from issues related to wages, working conditions, or contractual disagreements, they can swiftly bring even the most streamlined operations to a halt. Such disruptions, although localized initially, can fan out and cause ripples that influence a broader range of stakeholders.

As an illustration, when union members at CIM protested against proposed labor reforms in 2016, it led to significant disruption. This strike halted 40% of France’s crude imports and led to a cascade of effects: refinery shutdowns, blockages at fuel depots, and fuel shortages. The ripples of this strike also touched Exxon Mobil’s refinery and reduced the jet fuel supply at Paris Aeroport. This labor action further caused blockages, congestion, and extensive delays for oil tankers at key French ports.


Navigating Customs and Regulatory Procedures

While trade regulations act as protective measures that ensure safety and compliance, they can inadvertently become sources of delays. The post-Brexit scenario at the Port of Dover stands as a prime example. Trucks, heavy with cargo, were stalled, sometimes for days. This was not merely due to the newness of the customs protocols post-Brexit. It was the sheer volume of checks, coupled with a lack of clarity and training, that exacerbated the situation. The backlog was not limited to Dover but echoed across other European ports and caused significant trade disruptions. Additionally, the paperwork associated with these checks multiplied and further slowed down processes. Companies had to navigate a sudden surge in administrative procedures, leading to delays and increased operational costs.

Given the intricacies of major ports and their influence on global trade, swift action to optimize port infrastructure, address labor concerns, and streamline regulatory procedures is needed to reinforce the resilience and efficiency of the global supply chain.