Felixstowe Operational Update

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Following challenges with the implementation of a new terminal operating system (TOS) on June 2018, container vessels calling at Felixstowe faced serious delays. This resulted in sharp declines in deployed capacity and a diversion of deep-sea services away from Felixstowe.

At ClipperData, we have invested significantly in our data coverage, which allows us to provide insights on key issues in the container industry. Our previous look at operational developments at Felixstowe in November has been re-evaluated by first extending the dataset for nine months and by introducing additional metrics such as waiting time in anchorage and a productivity proxy.

The conclusions from our analysis are:

– Total time spent at port (anchorage time plus handling time at berth) has been improving, due to continuing decline activity at the port. This has reduced congestion at anchorages and at the terminals, while productivity levels are found to remain at lower levels than before June 2018.

– In general, handling time decreased less for larger vessels than for smaller ones, supporting the original findings. However, when anchorage times are also assessed, New Panamax vessels are found to be disproportionately affected.

-Data observed for the total vessel time spent in port and average anchorage time confirm that Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) has been the least affected carrier by the delays since June 2018. However, out of the top five operators calling at Felixstowe, OOCL vessels experienced the highest overall percentage increase in time at anchorage and spent at berth.


Waiting times, productivity, and total activity

The issues faced at Felixstowe between June and August 2018 are further highlighted when anchorage time is added to the analysis. Figure 1 illustrates the average total waiting time against the total vessel activity detected in the port.

The data show a spike in the average waiting time from June-August 2018, coupled with a decline in the total vessel deployment activity at Felixstowe.

Total vessel activity in Felixstowe continues to present a downward trend to this day.

At the same time, from August 2018 until now, total waiting time has declined, and in July returned to pre-TOS implementation levels. However, a closer look at the data suggests this decline in waiting times could be driven mainly by the reduced number of port calls at Felixstowe.

This is captured in Figures 2-3. Figure 2 shows that the decline in anchorage waiting times after August 2018 closely follows the decline in vessel activity.

Figure 3 introduces a novel proxy to port productivity levels: deployed vessel capacity processed per hour. While this metric is imperfect, we believe it serves as a good proxy to examine the relationship between time at berth and size of vessel handled.

In the figure below, we see that the rise in the average time in anchorage observed between June 2018 and August 2018 is happening at the same time as the collapse in port productivity. We can also see that the port has not yet returned to its pre-June 2018 productivity levels.

Differences based on vessel types

We suggested in November that priority had been given to servicing ULCVs, as the handling time of these vessels increased at a slower rate than average. At the same time, Feeders and Old Panamaxes were two of the most affected vessel categories by the congestion in summer 2018.

These findings are further corroborated if we examine additional metrics for the following periods:

– Period 1: January 2018 – May 2018

– Period 2: June 2018 – August 2018

– Period 3: September 2018 – July 2019

Looking at the aggregate picture of anchorage times in the port in Figure 5, ULCVs and Post Panamaxes had the lowest waiting time at anchorage out of all vessel categories, with 9.4 hours and 6.4 hours, respectively. At the same time, the average number of monthly calls for ULCVs decreased by less than one during Period 2, far below the average.

Feeders and Old Panamaxes were severely affected during Period 2, with their average waiting time in anchorage exceeding 14 hours, while their monthly average calls declined by 11.5 and 4.6, respectively.  The outlier in this picture are New Panamaxes, which seemed to face an increase of 13 hours from Period 1 to Period 2, but seemed to divert less-than-average traffic away from the port.

Differentiated effects on vessel operators

In November, we found that MSC was the least affected operator, while COSCO appeared to be the most negatively affected. Looking at Figure 5 partially supports these conclusions, displaying the handling time increases from Period 1.

MSC experienced the lowest increase in vessel turn-around times at 22 percent, while COSCO faced increases of 49 percent.

By taking into consideration the anchorage waiting times to compute the total waiting times for these vessel operators, we reach the results shown in Figure 6, confirming that MSC was the least affected operator with both the lowest percentage increase and the lowest total waiting time in absolute numbers. On the other hand, OOCL comes up as the most affected operator among the top five, with its total waiting time increasing by 60 percent.


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