With almost 20 weekly container shipping services calling at multiple ports across Europe and Asia, it will be a mammoth exercise at a time when all spare capacity in the ocean and terminal networks has been maxed out from months of strong demand.
'All the ships will arrive late in Europe and in Asia, no matter what,' said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of network for east-west trades at Maersk.
He told JOC.com in an interview that Maersk was studying ways to mitigate the worst of the delays, getting the vessels into ports, getting cargo off and on, and then steaming the ships back to Asia. It was a complex process with many moving parts.
'When you run a container loop, it keeps going round and round - there is no end station,' he said. 'One week's worth of capacity has been lost at the Suez, so ships arriving in Asia and in Europe will be a week late.'
With the canal now open, the focus is on the first ports of call in both directions where the initial crush will be.
'Ships are coming through the canal in bunches and they are all racing to Singapore, and there will be some clashes when they get there,' Mr Jensen said.
'I am pretty sure that from next week, we will see some of the loops that are planned to call in north Asia will turn at ports further south, simply to catch up on the lost week.'
A problem with carriers moving out of their scheduled port calls is that containers on board are stowed according to the planned port rotation, with the boxes loaded last being offloaded first.
'If you end up in a situation when you have to call at Rotterdam first instead of Felixstowe, then the containers will not be easy to get to,' Mr Jensen said. 'The Felixstowe boxes will be on top of the ship, and the terminal would need to dig its way through those.'
A spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd said its network managers were also studying how to best adjust complex port permutations. The Hamburg-based carrier operates 11 Asia-Europe services, eight with THE Alliance partners, and was considering options such as merging services or omitting ports as a way to recover schedules.
'It is difficult to deploy extra loaders because there are just no ships available at the moment,' the spokesperson told JOC.com. 'Our CEO [Rolf Habben Jansen] said it will take six to eight weeks for this situation to be resolved.'