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Mainline operators cut 27% of Europe and Mediterranean sailings

The first seven weeks of 2023 have seen 27% of Asia-Europe sailings axed as carriers respond to collapsed demand, according to Alphaliner's report.

Alphaliner's calculations state that normally, from 1 January to 17 February, there would be 196 sailings from the carriers' 18 Far East-North Europe and 10 Far East-Mediterranean services.

However, the carriers' most recent forward schedules for the upcoming weeks suggest that 53 of these planned voyages have been removed due to insufficient volumes.

Alphaliner said, "This number could still increase if the carriers decide to blank further sailings after the week-long Chinese New Year Holidays, which will start on 21 January. It has become a general practice for container lines to ‘void’ sailings in the calm weeks after the Chinese New Year. In contrast to this, the weeks before the holidays typically saw a small export rush from China, as cargo is shipped out before the factories close and output comes to a near standstill. Despite some newcomers such as China United Lines and Allseas, quitting the Asia – Europe trades already, mainline operators have reduced the number of Europe-bound departures ahead of Chinese New Year."

Maersk and MSC’s joint AE55 / Griffin loop in January only offered three sailings from Shanghai, Ningbo and Tanjung Pelepas to Felixstowe and Le Havre. All sailings in the upcoming four weeks have been cancelled. The 2M partners had also advised customers that all sailings of their China and Malaysia loop in the AE1 / Shogun service to Rotterdam and Bremerhaven had been voided through December 2022, January and through the first half of February.

Alphaliner remarked, "The big carriers do not only skip sailings to adjust capacity supply to the lower cargo demand, but also to avoid further erosion of spot ocean freight rates from China. So far, however, this capacity management has not helped much to lessen the downward pressure on rates."

Spot freight rates from Shanghai to North Europe fell slightly to US$2,040 per feu last week, according to the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index. Spot rates have thus returned to the levels seen in September 2020.

Despite the similar but shorter route, spot freight rates from Shanghai to the West Mediterranean Sea still stand at a notably higher US$3,670/feu. This might explain why the 2M partners are re-instating an earlier blanked departure of the 23,782 TEU MSC Amelia on 19 January from Qingdao for Asia – West Mediterranean AE11 / Jade loop.

Despite the higher spot rates from Asia to the Mediterranean, the number of cancelled sailings is evenly spread between the two routes. Current schedules show that 28% fewer sailings will be offered from Asia to North Europe in the first seven weeks of 2023, compared to 26% fewer for Asia – Mediterranean route.

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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