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Shippers nervous as new Europe-Asia container capacity crunch looms

      10/04/2019

CMA CGM has announced that it will increase its 40ft FAK rate from North Europe to Asia to $850 from 1 November.

The first adjustment this year by the French carrier of its backhaul rates could coincide with what European exporters fear: a severe capacity crunch as a consequence of the vast number of blanked westbound voyages this month.

These were a result of the Chinese Golden Week factory shutdown this week and particularly soft forward demand forecasts.

Additionally, Maersk and MSC decided to again temporarily suspend their AE2/Swan loop, removing around 18,000 slots a week from the market in abid to avoid a complete collapse of freight rates on the route.

Spot rates between North European base ports and China have slumped to around $500 per 40ft, which is some 40% below the level of a year ago – and it is understood that some shippers are paying considerably less.

Carriers adopted a similar strategy in previous years around this time to take the opportunity to hike backhaul rates when supply is squeezed by cancelled westbound sailings, but this year exporters to Asia are worried that the container lines will be able to “name their price”.

One UK forwarder told this week he had been “unable to get any sense” out of carriers when discussing nominated export sailings for November.

“I just don’t think they actually know what they are going to be doing. We have been told to deliver to Felixstowe for a vessel that has already changed its name three times,” he said.

“And I can see what is going to happen again – we will get a call to say our boxes will not be shipped unless we agree to a higher price. They will have us over a barrel, with our boxes stuck on the quay.”

He added: “We just need to know what we are paying when we book the box, high or low. If we agree a price, we expect the carrier to honour it, as we have to with our customers.”

While CMA CGM and its peers have been hiking their headhaul FAK rates, some carriers have attempted to clarify the changes in customer advisories.

Maersk issued an advisory on 18 September to its North European export customers with a long list of amendments to its eastbound services in November and December, and it understands some have already been changed.

“We aim to minimise the impact to our customers’ supply chain and provide predictability by making a structural change and securing alternative routings,” claimed the advisory.

Meanwhile, the alliances’ North Europe hub ports are as much in the dark as shippers concerning nominated export loaders in November and December.

“We will probably cop the blame again for having congested quays full of export stacks,” said a port executive.