Drewry’s latest annual report on global and international container terminal operators shows that the sector remains dynamic and profitable, but that numerous changes are also taking place. All terminal operators face the challenge of growth on two fronts – growth in container demand and growth in ship sizes.
Whilst it is generally agreed that future container demand growth will not be as strong as the boom periods of the 1990s and 2000s, global container port demand is still forecast to exceed 800 million TEUs annually by 2017, growing by just over 5 per cent per year. To put this growth into context, the 186 million TEUs which this growth represents is the equivalent of the entire throughput of all Chinese ports in 2012. Or to put it another way, it is more than the entire 2012 throughput of North America, Europe and the Middle East combined. This illustrates what a colossal industry the container port business has become – something that is often overlooked because it is geographically fragmented across nearly 1,300 terminals across the world and so the collective industry is somewhat under the radar. Even modest demand growth now generates huge absolute increases in volumes therefore.
At the same time, container ship sizes are increasing dramatically. The largest container ship in the world fleet has quadrupled in size since 1992, and in the Asia-Europe trade lane it has doubled in the last 10 years. This in turn has triggered the formation of ever larger operational alliances, most notably the P3 alliance between Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM. The resultant rampant and rapid cascading of larger ships into secondary trade lanes is likely to create more port problems and challenges than the 18,000-TEU monsters destined for the Asia-Europe trade lane.