Boats & Barges

European Barge Congestion Worsens; Major German Line Suspends Antwerp Barge Service

A crisis in barge congestion at major northern European ports is getting worse, with Hapag-Lloyd, a major German shipping and container movement company, announcing it was suspending barge shipments in Antwerp until June 30, according to the logistics publication The Loadstar. The move came after barge operator Contargo announced that its wait times at Antwerp had jumped from 33 hours at the end of May to 46 hours by mid-June. Hapag-Lloyd said chronic low water plus “industrial actions” (strikes) had worsened an already “dire” barge situation and that it would review the situation after June 30.

A spokesperson for the port of Antwerp denied to The Loadstar that other operators had canceled or suspended service, but other sources told the publication that congestion would worsen as northern European ports expect to be hit by an “avalanche” of Chinese containers later in the summer.

Another source said one problem is that too many barges are travelling half-full.

The barge congestion crisis at the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam has persisted for a decade. In March, the Antwerp Port authority said it had formed a task force with private operators ASV and Alfaport to address it. Ocean container carriers, including global container giant Maersk, have been reported to be diverting cargo from Antwerp over the issue. Barge operators complain that the rise of ultra-large container carriers has swamped ports with too many incoming containers, while not enough empties are being removed.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.