Barges On European Waterways Stymied By Congestion

European barge operators are increasingly “without hope” that worsening barge congestion can be addressed, according to a leading logistics publication. 

The online transit publication The Loadstar reported June 28 that northern Europe’s “beleaguered” barge sector is dealing with increasing congestion and delays extending into days. The situation has been ongoing for years, with several remedies proposed at Europe’s busiest ports, such as Antwerp and Rotterdam. 

The Loadstar quoted a freight forwarder as blaming a surge of ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) from Asia for rising wait times for barges.  Contargo, the region’s largest barge operator, announced that delays at Rotterdam had climbed from 66 to 89 hours, with Antwerp’s hovering at the 37-hour mark, but added that since 2017, delays of more than a week had been commonplace.

One analyst said the problem was that, while there were mitigating circumstances, barge operators were also making current difficulties worse by refusing to work together to optimize limited terminal berthing space, which has not kept up with demand. Sign up for Waterway Journal’s weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Like United States container ports, the two leading ports are instituting “cargo opening windows,” with penalties and/or further delays for shippers that fail to deliver containers within a certain time window.

This can cause back-ups in the logistics system, affecting truck and rail routes as well, according to The Loadstar.