LOGISTICS: Asia-US container rates slide; USACE plans to open Baltimore port by 1 May

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–Rates for shipping containers from east Asia and China to the US continue to slide, liquid chem tanker rates surged from the US Gulf to Europe and Asia, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) plans to open the Port of Baltimore by the end of the month after the Francis Scott Key bridge collapsed on 26 March, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup.

US President Joe Biden toured the site on Friday and noted that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has announced a plan to have the channel open by the end of April.

“In collaboration with industry partners, USACE expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep,” USACE said on Thursday. “This channel would support one-way traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore for barge container service and some roll on/roll off vessels that move automobiles and farm equipment to and from the port.”

USACE engineers are aiming to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May, restoring port access to normal capacity.

While not a big hub for chemical imports/exports, the closure of the Port of Baltimore because of the bridge collapse will have some ripple effects for logistics in the region.

US-based catalyst producer WR Grace said operations at its Curtis Bay Manufacturing site, located to the northwest of the collapsed bridge, have been unaffected despite its proximity to the accident site.

Chemicals make up only about 4% of total tonnage that moves through the port, according to data from the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The ACC said less than 1% of all chemicals involved in waterborne commerce, both domestic and trade volumes, pass through Baltimore.

The value of chems that pass through the port is significant, the ACC said, totaling $954 million in 2023, which averages about $3 million/day or $18 million/week.

Rates for shipping containers from Asia to the US continue to fall, in line with the decline in average global rates.

The following charts from supply chain advisors Drewry show the decrease in average global rates and from Shanghai to the US and Europe.

Judah Levine, head of research at online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos, said rates could be nearing “a diversion-adjusted floor”.

“Decreases from January/February peaks on the impacted ex-Asia lanes have slowed in recent weeks, and recent rate announcements by some carriers suggest they are hoping to keep rates at the $3,000-$3,500/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit) level to Europe and $3,500-$4,300/FEU level to the Mediterranean this month,” Levine said.

US chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS rose this week on the major trade lanes – from the US Gulf (USG) to ARA and to Asia.

For larger parcels, spot rates ticked higher to both regions as several outside vessels have expressed interest to come on berth for this route in April and for May.

This in turn, has curbed the rates from rising any further and somewhat modest.

Premiums for discharge in China have also closed the gap on main port rates, as China’s activity buying glycol has picked up.

From the USG to Rotterdam also has strengthened following the recent Easter holiday, as strong interest in EDC has been seen in the market.

There has been activity on the spot market, but owners are still working with COA customers to finalize their needs before committing to others.

Wait times for non-booked vessels ready for transit fell to below one day in both directions this week, according to the PCA’s vessel tracker and as shown in the following image.

Wait times last week were 2.7 days for northbound traffic and four days for southbound traffic.

Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan


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