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The container ship Maersk Hidalgo on Monday during operations in the Port of Malaga. Ñito Salas
Red Sea crisis sparks huge increase in container ship movements with wave of new traffic at Port of Malaga
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Red Sea crisis sparks huge increase in container ship movements with wave of new traffic at Port of Malaga

Due to ongoing security problems in the Suez canal that have affected the routing of global shipping, freight traffic in the city has tripled

Ignacio Lillo

Malaga

Tuesday, 16 April 2024, 11:26

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Ongoing conflict in the area of the Red Sea is triggering a constant wave of large container ships arriving at the Port of Malaga. All you have to do is go to 'quay nine' and witness the larger number of ships docked. On Monday 15 April, if you walked along the Levante dock, you would see the 353-metre long container ship Maersk Hidalgo. This vessel has loaded up with 1,300 containers, bound for Chinese and Korean ports. It is operating on the Europe-Asia route, according to data provided by the Port Authority.

But it is not the largest: this same week another two ships from the MSC shipping company are expected, each around 370 metres long. So what is causing these ships to dock in Malaga? Several reasons. In addition to the commercial agreements established with companies such as MSC, the main reason is due to the conflict in the Red Sea which is now giving rise to a volume of sea traffic that has not been seen for at least three years.

A month and a half ago, the Port of Malaga began to notice a change in trend in the so-called "deep water" logistics supply chain, transoceanic transits between China, India and southeast Asia, which are the major manufacturing production centres, and the consumer markets, basically in Europe and North America (USA and Canada).

These crossings have run through the Suez Canal until now. However, due to the tension in the Middle East and threats from the Houthi movement to ships, these have been diverted around Africa, adding 4,000 nautical miles to the route. This means more time, higher fuel costs and a major impact on schedules, according to technical experts.

Dockers: "We are working at full capacity, at full activity"

Among the professional groups that are benefiting most from this situation are the dock workers, who have experienced difficult times in previous years. "We are working at full capacity, at full activity, both permanent and temporary workers," said José Antonio Jiménez, president of the works council of the Malaga Port employment centre (CPE), made up of 92 permanent professionals.

"Right now we are working as we should always be: one ship comes in and another one goes out, it is a continuum so that there is work every day." Nevertheless, the trade union leader prefers not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, waiting for confirmation as to whether it is just "a peak", as has happened in previous years, or a trend that can be consolidated in the long term.

In this respect, he recalled that currently in Malaga the situation of stevedoring companies is better because several different operations are carried out: containers, cars, bulk, etc., so that "the market is diversified".

As a result, large shipping lines are temporarily opting for the ports of the western Mediterranean, so the large cargo is positioned around the Strait: Algeciras, Tangier Med and Malaga. The latter is, of the three, the one offering the greatest availability due to how full the ports of Algeciras and Tangier already are.

Full containers

Regular freight services are now arriving with large containers full of cargo, calling at the Port of Malaga on the major Asia-Europe-America global routes. These in turn are transferred at quay nine to smaller ships for distribution to the eastern Mediterranean and northern Europe (whereas before it was the other way around).

Port authority president Carlos Rubio said: "We have had a month and a half of very regular arrivals," and calculated that by the end of April, the increase will be 150 to 200%. "Some of the biggest boats there are, up to 380 metres in length, are coming in and regularly every week," Rubio pointed out. Over the next five days, seven ships (more than one per day) from Maersk, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd and WECC are expected to dock at Malaga.

Rubio said he does not know how long the period will last, as it depends on the continuation of the crisis in the Red Sea. However, technical sources pointed out tensions remain high in the region, now heightened by the escalation between Iran and Israel, so it can be expected to last at least a few more months.

Agreement with MSC

An agreement between the Port of Malaga and MSC has also contributed to the rise in shipping containers. "MSC is going to be more stable for a period of one to two years, the other depends on the Red Sea crisis," Rubio said.

"We are fighting for this not to be a one-off, anecdotal event, but for it to become structural. We have been extremely diversified for several years and the departure of a large shipping company has a relatively small impact on the port's accounts, but it is a direct benefit for the entire port community: stevedores, shipping agents, tugboats. The important thing is that this increase has caught us prepared, we had the infrastructure in place and stevedoring, logistics, nautical and technical services, which in the Port of Malaga work very well and the companies value them," he added.

In total, the Port of Malaga expects to receive 13 cargo ships this week, which will unload sunflower oil, wheat and vehicles or load up with dolomite.

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