The precise, constant and fast movement of the cranes in the port of Algeciras has something hypnotic about it. It is like a ship that moves in a coordinated way, almost as if it had a life of its own. Even this Wednesday, the tenth day of the transport strike, from a distance a layman does not notice great changes in that apparently perfect mechanism. But Carlos Serrano and María Luisa Aroca suffer with anguish every day that passes from the breakage of part of that gear. There are no trucks that take the imported fruit to his company Mercajara, in Villanueva de la Jara (Cuenca). More than 330 tons of goods from this company are languishing in 14 refrigerated containers from Algeciras and two more from Vigo, some of them stranded for a week. For each day, the product degrades, the cost of fees increases and new freight charges arrive in a spiral that cannot be stopped and that, for them alone, could reach losses of over 500,000 euros.
The situation of the company Mercajara, specialized for 12 years in the cultivation of mushrooms and the importation of fruits and vegetables, is just one more in a gear broken by the transport strike that is noticeable, although in a limited way, in the ports of Algeciras, Bilbao, Valencia and Barcelona, responsible for 80% of maritime container traffic throughout Spain in January this year, according to data from Puertos del Estado. In all of them they are currently avoiding a collapse of goods that could affect their maritime operations. But there are points, such as in Barcelona where they have already begun to adjust the entry and exit operations to try to prioritize imports over exports.
The Cadiz infrastructure is the most important in the Mediterranean in the movement of cargo, thanks to the transshipment from ship to ship. Of the five million containers that moved last year, only 400,000 (8% of the total) were as imports or exports. This, added to the magnitude of the port, the cargo that travels by train – up to four a day leave – has avoided lack of space or diversion of ships, despite the fact that sources from the Port Authority point out that these days the trucks leave “dropper”. Algeciras is also known for being the one with the most electrical charging stations of the Spanish ports: up to 5,500 for refrigerated perishable containers, such as those required by Aroca fruit. And, after ten days of unemployment, it is precisely there where the bottleneck takes its toll, according to Antonio Perea, manager of the freight forwarding company Algetransit: “We live in a tense calm because there are no trucks. I have around twenty clients with dozens of stopped refrigerated containers and the loss for them is great”.
“I’m desperate. They are going to ruin us ”, explains Aroca overwhelmed on the other end of the phone. In the last two days, she, director of Import-Export of the company, and her husband, owner of the form, have traveled more than 1,160 kilometers to try to find a solution to the blockade. From Villanueva to the port of Algeciras and, from there, to Murcia, in the anguished search —for now, without success— of a transport company that wants to take the containers out of the Cadiz port. “The freight forwarders tell us that they can’t do anything, the carriers that they are threatened. But we are going to have to close the company”, denounces the businesswoman.
Pineapple, lime, plantain, mango, lime or tubers. Aroca lists the products that accumulate in the large containers that are stranded between Algeciras and Vigo. The first shipments from South America arrived on Wednesday of last week. The couple trusted then that the strike would not last so long. But on Friday they began to worry and tried to find an alternative plan for the ports. The managers of Mercajara are not only concerned that, presumably, when they manage to recover their product “it is suitable for consumption, but not for sale, so it can be lost.” But, from this Monday, for each day that passes, they have to pay 250 euros per day and container, as fees. The costs correspond to the space occupied by the port, to the electrical connections to keep them refrigerated, and to the days that go by without returning the container (these last two amounts, charged by the shipping company). To this they have to add the days of having their 130 employees unable to work and the possible costs of destruction —about 2,000 euros per container—. In total, the company from Cuenca believes that it could face losses of around 500,000 euros.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
“We are the collateral damage. I understand the claim, but the situation is unbearable and, if it continues like this, this could lead to the diversion of traffic to Rotterdam or Lisbon”, assures Perea. Until now, this shadow of changes in maritime operations is only a fear in most ports. It is in Barcelona where this fear has grown the most, after the terminals that manage the import and export of content —now between 75% and 80% of their capacity— warn that they are prioritizing imports over exports , that is, the outputs of the port versus the inputs. Normally, between 3,000 and 4,000 trucks enter the port of Barcelona every day, movements that have been reduced by up to 80% since the start of the strike. “It is a situation that worries us. The impact is important due to the action of the pickets, especially at the port entrance and at the terminals. The restriction of maritime operations would have a great impact on the country’s economy”, declared the president of the Port of Barcelona this Wednesday on TV3.
In the port of Bilbao – especially powerful in liquid bulk, half of its traffic – the possibility of the pier collapsing is not contemplated, but they warn in a statement: “This situation does not allow the merchandise unloaded from the boats or receive export merchandise at the docks. For now, all six of the port’s entrances are open and its cargo yards remain at capacity. The rainy season and rough seas that are hitting part of the country have coincided in Valencia with the carriers’ strike and, despite this, the situation is calm. “We have sufficient capacity to withstand an imbalance of supplies and demands of reasonable dimensions, although it is not known where this crisis will lead,” explain sources from the port. ”Transportation is essential and, when it works well, we are not aware of how important logistics is. with a week [de paro]we already have companies closing and markets without supplies”, criticized the president of Valenciaport, Aurelio Martínez.
Although the traffic jam due to the lack of trucks is not yet known when it will end, the wheel of international trade does not stop turning. Until last Tuesday, Mercajara had nine fruit containers blocked between Algeciras and Vigo. Already this Wednesday seven more arrived, without their managers being able to do anything. “A producer from Costa Rica makes programs according to the needs and his merchandise leaves every week. A container takes 30 or 15 days to sail, I cannot stop them because they are already on their way”, points out María Luisa Aroca. And the person in charge of imports can already see what will happen the day after the activity resumes: “Imagine the bottleneck that there is going to be with perishable fruit, about to go bad and with a low price. It will be at least ten days until we get back to normal.”