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Global News Asia-Med container volumes hit four-year high in March

Registration dateMAY 24, 2023

Greg Knowler, Senior Editor EuropeMay 12, 2023, 10:04 AM EDT
Articles reproduced by permission of Journal of Commerce.

Greg Knowler, Senior Editor Europe
May 12, 2023, 10:04 AM EDT
Articles reproduced by permission of Journal of Commerce.

Asia-Med container volumes hit four-year high in March MSC’s reinstated Dragon service offers a fast transit between Asia and the Mediterranean, with the MSC Vega one of nine vessels deployed on the loop. Photo credit: BEST.
Containerized imports from Asia to the Mediterranean in March shrugged off Europe’s economic woes to post their highest volume since January 2019, according to the latest figures from Container Trades Statistics (CTS).

Volume from Asia to the Mediterranean surged 22% year over year in March to 568,000 TEUs, with Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis data showing offered capacity during the month shot up by 166,000 TEUs to 613,111 TEUs as carriers reinstated sailings blanked in February.

“March volume on the Far East to both East and West Mediterranean was amazingly strong considering that March last year was at the peak of the market, and it seems that new business has been generated, rather than just increasing demand,” CTS CEO Nigel Pusey told the Journal of Commerce this week.

First-quarter volume on both the Asia-North Europe and Asia-Med routes is heavily affected by Chinese New Year, the start of which shifts between the second half of January and the first half of February. That’s why analysis of the trades typically looks at the full first quarter rather than individual months.

CTS data shows 1.47 million TEUs were handled on the Asia-Med trade lane in the first quarter, up 6% year over year. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals significant differences in import growth between the East and West Med. While the East Med/Black Sea imports in the first quarter rose 16% year over year to 786,421 TEUs, West Mediterranean volume was down almost 4% at 691,145 TEUs.

The huge year-on-year increases in volume seen in March were largely confined to the East Med/Black Sea, where overall containerized imports from Asia were up 18%. Volume from China was up 32% at 212,420 TEUs, while imports from North Asia rose 28% to 53,452 TEUs.

Blank sailings data from Sea-Intelligence reflects the drop in business through Chinese New Year, with 25.3% of offered capacity, or 150,940 TEUs, withdrawn from service in February. In March, carriers reduced blank sailings to 12%, cutting 86,191 TEUs.

Pusey said CTS data showed there were 78 sailings in February on the Asia-Mediterranean trade and 126 in March as carriers reinstated sailings blanked through the first two months of the year. Capacity injection Carriers evidently believe demand will continue to improve as only 5.9% of capacity will be blanked in May, while 3.9% is set to be withdrawn in June, according to Sea-Intelligence.

One carrier making a significant contribution to the Asia-Med capacity injection is Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) with its reinstating of the Dragon service between China and the Med that was discontinued in March 2020 following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The service had been offered as part of the 2M Alliance under the AE-20/Dragon label, but as MSC unwinds its alliance with Maersk, it will operate the standalone service using nine 13,000-TEU ships. Restarting the Asia-Mediterranean loop after three years enables MSC to utilize its abundance of capacity — the carrier has an order book of 1.8 million TEUs — in a trade that is more attractive than North European destinations.
Rates from Asia to Europe/Mediterranean flatten into May
Peter Sand, chief analyst at rate benchmarking platform Xeneta, said the Asia-Med trade began to recover late last year, and in January and February the market was “almost on par” with 2021 and 2022 in contrast to the slow recovery of Asia-North Europe.

“Carriers are responding to this trend as fast as possible, adding more capacity to Asia-Med, which doesn't seem to be the same for Asia-North Europe, reflecting very well the differences in demand,” Sand told the Journal of Commerce.

The influx of capacity explains why the surge in demand has not managed to lift spot rates on the Asia-Mediterranean trade, but it has stopped the decline. Although Xeneta data shows spot rates on the trade falling 29% since Jan. 1, they have been flat since the end of the first quarter.
· Contact Greg Knowler at and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.