The blockage of the Suez Canal raises the cost of freight and CO2

The Suez Canal represents approximately 15% of world trade. However, since the end of the year this historic route has been losing traffic – up to 55% in the first three months of the year. The decrease is due to the attacks that the Houthis (Yemen's military militia that controls the eastern part of the country) are carrying out against container ships that ply the waters of the Gulf of Aden. They do so with the support of Iran and in response to Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip. After dozens of attacks recorded in the area between November and December (some figures speak of at least 100), important firms, such as NYK or Wallenius Wilhelmsen, have opted to change their route and skirt Africa through the Cape of Good Hope to bring products from the Far East to Europe. The cape has increased its traffic by 70% this year.

Consequently, heThe journeys have been extended by at least 10 days (that's 3,000 more nautical miles), which leads to greater fuel consumption, increased costs and longer delivery times for goods. In the last month, furthermore, consumption in Europe has increased and supplies have begun for Christmas. “Right now everything that can float is in the sea,” says Nuria Lacaci, spokesperson for the Spanish Shippers Association ( ACE). This means, he estimates, talking about almost 30 million containers in the water and more than 3,000 container ships. Freight prices have risen; According to data from the Port of Barcelona, ​​”rates from Asia to the Mediterranean have increased, reaching about 3,000 for 20-foot containers», they say. «Before this crisis they cost about 1,000 euros. When it started it rose to 2,300 euros, at the beginning of the year it began to drop to 1,750 more or less and, suddenly, at the end of April and May it shot up again to above 3,000,” Lacaci clarifies. Another undesirable consequence is the rise in emissions. According to data from the Port of Barcelona “it could be 354% in the Mediterranean.”

Ships in the worldTania NietoThe reason

Nobody knows the duration of this new crisis (which is reminiscent of the one experienced during the pandemic when demand increased, but there were no personnel on the ships or in the ports, and there was the first major increase in freight prices in recent years. ), but the situation in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea is considered very volatile within the sector. In addition, the Houthi attacks are serving as “inspiration for Somali pirates,” indicates the latest Allianz report, published at the end of May, on the challenges of maritime transport.

Today's pirates don't wear eye patches or use cannons; They launch their attacks with drones, cheap to manufacture and difficult to detect, and GPS. In addition, they hack databases to track vulnerable ships. Piracy in Somalia is increasing: «They captured a ship, the bulk carrier Ruen, in December 2023 for the first time since 2017 and since then several more attacks have been recorded,” says the report, which also recalls that between 2005 and 2011, up to 149 ships and more than 3,700 crew members were confiscated to demand ransoms for a total of 300 million dollars. In 2022 there were 120 pirate attacks around the world and it has become one of the biggest challenges in the sector, along with climate change, war conflicts and geopolitical tensions. Meanwhile, shipwrecks have dropped to historic levels with only 22 large ship sinkings. “Reports are increasing of vessels experiencing GPS interference, which can result in lost or inaccurate signals that affect navigation.”

Curiously, another of the threats to the sector, in this case, a consequence of the war in Ukraine, is an increase in the ghost fleets, That is, very old and polluting vessels that are off the radar and have caused about 50 incidents at sea. Allianz estimates between 600 and 1,400 oil tankers involved.

Maritime trade volume
Maritime trade volumeTania NietoThe reason

Ports of Spain

The problems in the Suez Canal are also having consequences in Spanish ports, which have been seeing their traffic increase since the beginning of the year in terms of transhipments. «Many shipping companies have decided to reduce stopovers and no longer unload in eastern Mediterranean ports such as those in Greece, Italy or Malta. Now they do it in Barcelona, ​​Valencia or Algeciras and from here they transship the merchandise to smaller ships, while the large container ships return to Asia. “This way they shorten the journey,” says Lacaci. Puertos del Estado estimates the growth in transit at 18.6% in the first four months, that is, 3.2 million more tons have passed through these three ports. In Valencia, in the first quarter of this year alone there has been an increase of 12.46% in containers, according to their data (Valencia Containerised Freight Index). «The port of Barcelona is the one that is growing the most on the Peninsula. Specifically 23%. Even some that previously called at other ports further north in Europe are calling here. And in the latter case it is a type of traffic that may be permanently established,” says Jordi Torrent, head of Strategy at the Port of Barcelona and general secretary of the Mediterranean ports association. The technician also explains that the port has implemented additional measures to avoid congestion problems: “At times we have suffered some congestion, but now we have more stevedores, working hours have been lengthened in the terminals on the land side and shipowners are urged to remove empty containers,” he comments.

Curiously, the traffic in the port of Algeciras has also grown, above 3%, despite the entry into force in January of the European regulations on ETS emissions. «When the situation returns to what we all want, and although it is difficult to predict when, our containerized merchandise traffic may be affected because it will be cheaper to call at ports in third countries to transship merchandise due to this new European regulation that requires ships that call at EU ports to pay for their emissions. The forecast is that the scales will deviate, we will lose activity and competitiveness. And what is more serious, we will lose a good part of control of the supply chain,” says Gerardo Landaluce, president of the Port Authority of Algeciras.

Global shipping is also being affected by the weather. The Panama Canal, which concentrates 6% of trade, has been suffering from a major drought for several months and the authorities have had to reduce the number of ships in daily transit between the Atlantic and the Pacific, in addition to their draft. Route times have increased between 11 and 19 days, part of the routes are covered by train or plane.

Crises since the pandemic are common in the sector, which is experiencing a change in trend: relocation. “The first source of imports continues to be China, but those from nearby countries such as Morocco or Turkey are increasing,” says Torrent.

Crowded with Chinese cars

Euronews reports that the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are packed with Chinese cars. Distributors use ports as warehouses instead of dealers. Overproduction in China has driven an avalanche of exports to Europe, which has also reduced its purchases. In Barcelona «we are increasing the space because there has been a rebound in imports in two years. In 2023 it has been the case that vehicles have even arrived in containers,” says Torrent.