European container shortages ease, but imbalances remain


European ports are seeing higher levels of container availability despite volumes remaining well below pre-pandemic levels.

During the worst phases of the crisis, falling demand meant that empty equipment was left idle at depots for significant periods of time, according to container repositioning service Containers xChange.

“Thankfully, that trend is changing,” the company said. “Containers are now being loaded and returned, although the industry is still working on a lower heat than what we were used to before the pandemic.”

But there were still stockpiles of empties sitting for long periods at some depots, it added.

The company’s Container Availability Index (CAx) shows that in northern range ports such as Hamburg, container availability is increasing.

A CAx value over 0.5 indicates a surplus of containers and for 20 ft dry containers the index is showing an increase from 0.47 in week 29 to 0.78 in week 31.

“In this calculation, we should, however, also not forget the many blank sailings Europe has been hit by during the crisis,” Containers xChange said. “This has also had a tangible impact on the number of containers in the depots and the terminals around the continent. With fewer blank sailings, that is also now changing.”

In southern Europe, where blanked sailings on Mediterranean voyages have seen more capacity taken out of the market, there is still a deficit of equipment.

The CAx figure for 40 ft dry containers in Genoa, for example, is as low as 0.01. This is set to continue through to week 31, indicating that equipment will remain scarce.

This will prove problematic for shippers trying to find containers for goods as economies come out of lockdown.

Exports will be dependent on lower numbers of imports entering a market as demand remains subdued.