CMA CGM imposes “container imbalance” surcharge

CMA CGM has announced an empty container imbalance surcharge of $100 per unit. This is in addition to similar equipment surcharges out of Turkey to the Mediterranean and North Africa announced last week, raising concerns that the sector might be heading for a repeat of the “container misplacement” experienced during the Covid pandemic.

Container xChange’s Container Price Sentiment Index (xCPSI) have surged to historic highs this month. Christian Roeloffs, CEO of Container xChange, noted that supply chains currently held a surplus capacity of more than 6m teu. This had accumulated over the past two years due to a demand deficit. That excess capacity was acting as a “vital cushion” to absorb potential shockwaves in the supply chain, he said.

Roeloffs said that the degree of impact would depend on the duration of the Red Sea crisis. “Should it persist for an extended period, and the excess capacity continues to be absorbed, we could potentially face serious challenges”. He added that “the recent rate surge is noticeable when viewed in the short term”.

Meanwhile, despite a decline in transits through the drought-hit Panama Canal for most shipping sectors, containerships have been maintaining transit levels. This is mainly because of a reduction in competition from other sectors, according to UK-based Drewry Shipping Consultancy.

It is now approaching a year since the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) first imposed draft and daily transit restrictions (which started in March 2023) in order to preserve water levels in the canal’s watershed, which has another role in supplying water to half of Panama’s population.

In December 2023 there was saw a 25% drop in transits compared to October 2023, down to 746 transits from 1,002. The previous December there had been 1,281 transits, according to ACP data.

The ACP increased the number of daily transits to 24 starting this month, from 22 previously. While that was a reversal of an earlier plan to reduce the number of daily transits even further, it remains a long way below the pre-drought levels of the 35-40+ daily transits pre-March 2023.

Drewry said that containerships had tended to avoid the long queues and expensive transit auctions at the Panama Canal because of a pre-booking system. However. Per-day transits dropped to an average of 7.4 in both November and December, down from 8.4 in October.

Drewry said that that this was close to recent historical average daily transits for containerships, which were 7.7 in Fiscal Year 2022 and 7.6 in Fiscal Year 2023, according to ACP data. Other sectors have fallen way below pre-restriction averages, which has meant that containerships’ share of total monthly transits rose to 30.6% in December, a third higher than the long-term average.

Drewry said that “containerships are finding it easier to reserve slots as some other sectors (most obviously dry bulk) continue to vacate the route, even if carriers would like more”.