The P3 alliance’s choices of port calls appear less dependent on the carriers’ individual links to terminals and more on other factors beyond close port ties, according to a recent analysis by Drewry.
“Although each P3 carrier has a connection with a terminal operator—CMA CGM through owning Terminal Link (TL), MSC through its strategic relationship with Terminal Investment Limited (TIL) and Maersk Line through its sister company APM Terminals (APMT)—it does not appear to have played a dominant role in the alliance’s recently announced port selections,” Drewy noted.
Regardless of the number of carrier-related terminals in any port, the number of loops ranges from several to one, suggesting little or no correlation, continued the maritime research firm. “APMT is the largest of the three terminal operators and the most potentially significant in the P3 port plans, but it operates at arm’s length from Maersk Line and has its own strategic aims.”
The selection of ports seems to have come after considering numerous factors and the decision by the carriers to make individual compromises.
“The proposed P3 schedules and port call patterns are the result of what must have been complex and fascinating horse trading between the three protagonists,” Drewry added. “Each one has a well-established set of services and customers which it does not want to disrupt too much, so it is not surprising that the intended P3 schedules bear fairly close resemblance to their existing loops.”
One apparently major factor considered was whether the ship should go to the cargo or the cargo should go to the ship. “The decision by the P3 to continue to call at ports like Antwerp and Hamburg with very large vessels suggests that it is the attraction of cargo which wins out,” said Drewry.
“Both ports have vessel draft and access limitations but they do have significant cargo generation ability, including forwarder-controlled cargo. In other words being tidally restricted and 5-6 hours sailing up river, thereby creating possible schedule reliability challenges, does not appear to represent a barrier to being a major P3 port.”
On who will come out the winner or loser in the P3 alliance’s port choices, Drewry contends that it should not be based on the number of loops calling at each port, but on the number of 20-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) handled per vessel call.
“A port could lose a loop but might still end up handling more TEU overall. The recent example of an ultra-large container ship call at ECT Rotterdam which involved an exchange of over 11,000 TEU shows just how much a loop can be worth today in the real currency of ports—TEU not vessel calls,” it added.
Drewry concluded that P3’s proposed port call choices were “the result of a highly complex bargaining and balancing act between three heavyweights.” What tilted the odds in favor of a port was not the carriers’ stakes in terminals, but the capability of a port to generate cargo. “Whilst some ports appear to have gained markedly from the proposed schedules, the acid test will be the volume of TEU handled for the P3, not the number of loops,” said Drewry.
Photo: Alan Stanton