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Maersk Halts North Europe-Asia Bookings as Terminals Almost Full

A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world’s biggest container-shipping company, suspended bookings on North Europe-to-Asia routes as it struggles with a backlog of shipments that has left terminals close to full capacity.

The carrier may take until early May to clear the backlog, which is the result of an increase in demand and service cuts by other lines, the Copenhagen-based company said in an e-mailed service update today. It didn’t say how long the halt, which doesn’t affect Asia-Europe bookings, may last.

“Terminal density at some ports is nearing yard capacity,” the shipping line said in reply to Bloomberg News questions. “If bookings are not halted, this could negatively impact productivity, further slow down carriers’ ability to clear the heavy backlog/overflow and impact other trades.”

Other shipping lines have halted bookings on the route until May, Maersk said, citing customers, after operators pared capacity earlier in the year because of slower Asia-Europe demand and efforts to pare losses. Demand for Europe-Asia shipments has also withstood rate increases in February, March and one planned for April, Maersk said.

Maersk Line said Feb. 17 that it will cut 9 percent of capacity on the Asia-Europe route after a glut of new ships caused rates to slump. The unit has predicted a second straight annual loss this year.

The shipping line raised rates from North Europe to Asia by $100 per 20-foot container on Feb. 1 and by $50 starting March 1. A further $100 increase is due to take effect April 1. The carrier has also raised Asia-Europe rates this year.

Container lines idled 289 vessels, able to hold a combined 913,000 20-foot boxes, as of March 12 to pare overcapacity, according to Alphaliner. That could rise to 1.1 million containers by year-end, the shipping-data provider said.

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