Maersk has resumed voyages to Yantian as the congestion in the region eases but has warned the process will take some time to fully clear.
It said 19 of its main lane services had been affected by the disruption at Yantian, which has been ongoing since an outbreak of coronavirus emerged in mid-May.
“We decided early on to temporarily remove a number of calls, in fact the majority of our calls, for the port of Yantian to limit the impact to the rest of our network and minimise the disruption to our customers’ supply chains,” Maersk head of global execution centres Ahmed Bashir said in a video message.
In many cases, these calls were diverted to alternative ports in the area, he said.
“I’m glad, however to report that the situation in Yantian has improved a lot over the past 10 days or so and we’ve begun the process of repatriating services and we expect that to be complete in the next two to three weeks.”
But the transition to normal service schedules would not be without challenges, he added.
“We need to ensure that it is done in a controlled way to avoid creating new bottlenecks in Yantian or in neighbouring ports. It is evident that the situation will remain fluid for quite some time.”
Hutchison Ports, the owner of Yantian International Container Terminal, said operations have resumed at all 20 of berths. It was now handling 40,000 teu through its gates daily, it added.
“All major shipping lines have resumed their vessel calls at Yantian,” Hutchison said. “The full recovery of Yantian’s terminal operations has helped to maintain the normal operation of international trade and the global supply chain.”
Maersk resumed calls to Yantian on its AE10 and AE11 services, which serve northern Europe and the Mediterranean, last week, along with the TP12 US east coast service.
Five more services are due to resume calls this week, with the remainder returning to Yantian from next week.
But while yard density at Yantian was down to 65% and overall productivity had increased to 85% of normal levels, yard density and waiting times were higher at the neighbouring ports of Shekou, Nansha and Hong Kong.
According to figures from Lloyd’s List Intelligence, there are 77 containerships over 10,000 dwt, with combined capacity of 308,499 teu, at anchor in waters off southern China.
That is down from a peak of more than 500,000 teu in June. Last week there were still at least 90 vessels at anchor.
“The congestion in Yantian is clearing up, but when one port is impacted it can become a downward spiral for neighbouring ports,” said Maersk.