Container throughput across the globe has picked up pace in 2017, compared to 2015 and 2016, according to industry analyst Drewry. In its latest Container Insights Weekly data, Drewry noted that nearly all major trade routes, including Asia-North American West Coast and Asia-North American East Coast, have made contributions to the volume growth.
Asia-Mediterranean routes led the recovery, with volume increases of slightly less than 10 percent. According to data from iPiers, N.A. East Coast ports have grown 6.5 percent over 2016 volumes through June. N.A. West Coast ports have grown at a more modest 1.4 percent. Based on sample port data, Drewry estimates that worldwide container handling grew 6.6 percent in the first six months of 2017.
"World port throughput growth was barely a thing in either 2015 or 2016, and if the current rate for the first half of 2017 as suggested by our sample ports holds true for the remainder of the year, it will have been the fastest growing year since 2011," the shipping analyst noted in the report.
Drewry expects the second half of 2017 to continue with similar volumes, although it remains to be seen how much of a lift the typical third-quarter peak season will provide in 2017. The Journal of Commerce (JOC) reports that peak seasonal volumes relative to the rest of the year have smoothed out significantly, likely because online shopping buying patterns are spread more evenly through the year.
Rising container volumes may be good news for ocean carriers placing orders and taking delivery of new, larger vessels. According to the JOC, 26 new ships larger than 14,000 TEU were delivered in the first six months of 2017, with a dozen more nearing completion. Increased traffic of larger vessels will continue to put a strain on ports, infrastructure and equipment controls. Higher volumes with less frequent vessel calls can lead to container stockpiles in ports that need to be moved in a short period of time, requiring a new synchronization of schedules between vessel calls and adjacent truck & train capacity.