Carriers plan to withdraw 27% of all Asia-Europe sailings through the first seven weeks of the year, driven by the ongoing lack of container demand on the trade ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday that begins this weekend.

From Jan. 1 to Feb. 17, the three major carrier groupings — 2M Alliance, THE Alliance, and Ocean Alliance — will axe 53 voyages from the 196 scheduled sailings on the Asia-North Europe and Asia-Mediterranean routes due to the weak demand, according to Alphaliner.

The analyst warned in its weekly newsletter Wednesday that the number of blank sailings could increase if carriers decide to cull additional capacity after the week-long Chinese New Year Holiday that starts Jan. 21.

“Despite the fact that some newcomers such as CULines and Allseas have dropped out of the Asia-Europe trades already, the big carriers this year nevertheless reduced the number of westbound departures ahead of the holiday,” Alphaliner said.

The weakening demand has taken hold since the start of the fourth quarter. Data from Container Trades Statistics (CTS) shows volume between Asia and Europe fell 18.4% in November year over year, following a 25.9% drop in October.

Peter Sand, chief analyst at rate benchmarking platform Xeneta, explained that current blank sailing levels were about half the capacity withdrawn at the start of 2022, but that was due to huge strains on global supply chains, with congestion and a lack of equipment derailing schedules. In some cases, carriers were forced to add weeks to round trips, making it impossible for ships to get back in time for their next scheduled departure.

“This year is very different,” Sand told the Journal of Commerce. “It’s a clear issue of depleted demand, as we can see by the falling ocean freight rates as carriers compete for business, rather than congestion, COVID, or any other structural challenges.”