-This article originally appeared in Lloyd’ s List

Several top container lines are to drop some sailings in the Asia to Europe trades over the coming weeks during what should be the busiest time of year.

In what appears to be an unprecedented move, Cosco Container Lines, Yang Ming and Hanjin Shipping have said they will reduce capacity during the forthcoming peak season.

The move coincides with further efforts by some lines to push freight rates up again, either through general rate increases or peak season levies. The latest operator to advise customers of a peak season surcharge is Mediterranean Shipping Co, which plans to impose a $350 per teu levy on cargo moving from Asia to northern Europe and the Mediterranean from August 1. MSC had originally intended imposing a $350 per teu seasonal surcharge on June 1, but then delayed that move because of market conditions.

Hapag-Lloyd, which has been leading the rate restoration effort, has already announced plans for a peak season surcharge of $350 per teu to run from August 1 to September 30, plus another general rate increase of $250 per teu to start on August 15.

Yet at the same time, some members of the CKYH alliance are planning to blank sailings from late July to mid-August, an indication that forward bookings are not looking strong.

The four member lines all share space on each other’s ships, so the missed voyages affect the whole consortium. Evergreen also co-operates with the alliance, although is not a member.

In week 30 and 33, the NE4 loop operated by Yang Ming in partnership with K Line will drop its weekly departures. In week 31, one sailing will be skipped, while another will be operated with 5,600 teu vessel rather than one of 8,600 teu.

Latest data from Container Trades Statistics reveals weak trade developments, with volumes from Asia to Europe down by 6.9% in May, compared with the corresponding month a year earlier, to just over 1.1m teu. Shipments to the western Mediterranean were particularly hard hit. The May decline followed a 3.2% drop in April and flat numbers for the first quarter. In 2011, Asia-Europe volumes rose by a modest 4.5%.

The World Container Index shows that Asia to Europe freight rates have lost some ground over the past week although they are still triple values at the start of the year.

The Shanghai-Rotterdam component dipped $32 per feu to $3,489, having gained around $400 a week earlier when July 1 rate increases kicked in. Shanghai to Genoa rates have lost $71 during the past seven days.

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