Volumes from Asia fell by nearly 9% in June as trade to the western Mediterranean and North Africa plunged almost 16%, the latest Container Trades Statistics (CTS) data shows.
Asian exports of containerised merchandise to east Mediterranean and Black Sea destinations were also much lower, falling 11% compared with June 2011 figures. The corresponding figure for north European imports from Asia was a fall of 5.9%.
In total, Asia to Europe volumes fell to just under 1.1 million teu in June compared with almost 1.2 million teu in the same month of 2011 and in May.
The drop comes at a time of year when lines would expect some upturn in volumes at the start of the traditional peak season.
Instead, Asia to Europe liftings have declined year on year for most months of 2012, although CTS has revised the May decline from a 6.9% drop to a gentler 3.2% fall.
After a flat performance in the first three months of 2012, the second quarter recorded a 4.7% volume contraction compared with 2011.
The figures throw more light on why several lines have taken the unprecedented decision to skip some sailings on Asia to Europe routes and postpone peak-season surcharges that are starting to be levied around now, having originally been due to start a month or so ago.
The drop in demand comes at a time of considerable capacity increases. Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows that 800,000 teu of new capacity was delivered in the first seven months of the year, with ships over 10,000 teu accounting for 508,000 teu.
Eastbound shipments from North America to Europe are also being hit by deteriorating economic conditions. CTS data shows a 7.5% drop in June after declines of 12.1% and 11.3% in April and May respectively, bringing the second-quarter contraction to 10.4%.
CTS compiles its figures from data supplied by contributor carriers, then rounded up to give a representation of the whole trade.
Although volumes are under severe strain, freight rates are still holding up. The latest World Container Index (WCI) shows that its Shanghai-Rotterdam component gained $163 per feu over the past week to $3,496 as more rate increases took effect.
The increase follows a dip a week earlier. But the Shanghai-Genoa route was relatively weaker, with spot rates gaining only $22 per feu over the previous seven days.
The Shanghai Containerised Freight Index, which is compiled differently, showed a drop of $18 per teu for its China-north Europe element. However, general rate increases on the transpacific have gained traction, with spot rates from Shanghai to the US west coast up $303 per feu or 13%.