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Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Sea Freight Transport

By Quality Move Management Inc / October 15, 2021

Port congestion remains the key topic of the month, with 100+ commercial vessels marooned between Los Angeles/Long Beach to Savannah to NY, American imports continue to set monthly records. Reuters reported last week the first-half 2021 import volumes enabled Los Angeles-Long Beach ports, America’s largest import gateway, to overtake Hong Kong as the world’s ninth-largest container port, while the US’s second-largest port complex, New York-New Jersey, rose to number 18, passing both Hamburg and Thailand’s Laem Chabang.


Data analysts have added that Los Angeles-Long Beach volumes were up 41% first half 2021 versus first half 2020; 10.18 million TEU, compared with 7.19m TEU last year. New York & New Jersey were almost as impressive; increasing 31%; first half 2021 versus. 2020.


Globally, however, the increase in container volume is considerably less than the American numbers, with the leading analysts differing on expected 2021 results. Splash reports CTI Consultancy saying they see global container growth of 8-9%, Maersk 7-8%, Clarkson’s Research Services 6.3%, with Alphaliner the low forecast of 5.8%.


The mismatch between surging import volumes and an overwhelmed transport network is beginning to stifle the recovery. Citing the continuing supply chain problems, Goldman Sachs earlier this month cut its fourth-quarter economic growth forecast from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent. Retailers’ inventories are near a 30-year low and toymakers and other retailers are urging consumers to shop now for their holiday gifts.


Until and unless these logistical issues are resolved, and American buying patterns return somewhat to pre-COVID levels of fewer goods and more services, the American holiday buying season may be starting months earlier than November’s famous Black Friday. Container rates due to this shortage will, of course, continue to climb.


Europe to the Americas

Several carriers will further increase the rates into USA and Canada. Unreliable services and volume peak still results in capacity shortage. Blank sailings and port omissions (especially, but not limited to the

West Coast) still ongoing due to schedule recovery process. Port/Rail/Intermodal issues further adding to the supply chain disruptions.


Europe to Asia & the Pacific 

The equipment situation has improved slightly, but still under pressure at inland depots. The space situation to Asia is slowly improving. Rates are being extended or slightly reduced. The situation to Australia & New Zealand remains very tense situation due to congestions in all transhipment ports in Asia. Direct service vessels are heavily overbooked, especially to New Zealand, and because several carriers are not offering current services to New Zealand rates continue to increase to that region. 


Europe to the Middle East and Africa

The equipment situation is similar to Asia. Space will remain very tight because several services continue omitting Jebel Ali through to November. Rates have been mostly extended or slightly increased.


North America to Europe 

Rates are increasing with larger increases ex US West Coast where vessels are full. No change in the available capacity, 4-6 weeks advance booking is still recommended.  Schedule reliability continues to be challenges due to terminal congestion both in US and North Europe. Carriers are omitting ports to try and get back on schedule.


North America to Asia & the Pacific

Decline in capacity, as carriers are still limiting the space back to Asia. Bookings are very tight, and carriers are continuing to increase the rates every 15 days.


North America to the Middle East and Africa

Reduction of capacity into the Middle East is causing delays and congestion. Carriers are imposing surcharges and reducing bookings, cancelling services with no warning.


North America to the Americas

USGULF affected by recent storms within past few weeks leading to port omissions as carriers try to get schedule back on time. Area continues to suffer congestion and delays. Services to Chile & Peru are being restricted by some carriers due to congestion at transhipment port as well as restrictions on limited moves at destination port. Rate increases are continuing for October, vary by carrier and route.


Asia & Pacific to Europe

The market continues to remain strong, with tight equipment situation. Continual port congestion is leading to constant vessel delays, blank sailings and port omissions.


Asia & the Pacific to the Americas   

The port congestion continues with around 70 ships queuing to enter Los Angeles & Long Beach terminals. There remains congestion at all major rail facilities in Chicago, Columbus, and Los Angeles UP and BNSF rail ramps. The market remains buoyant whereas equipment is tight out from Asia.


Asia & the Pacific to the Middle East and Africa

Far East/Gulf space is severely lacking, resulting in more than 40% of services blank sailings in September. MED space is tight with blank sailings taking place during Golden Week. Africa market is still very strong and shows no signs of relief in Oct. Equipment from Asia is still tight and placing of bookings is recommended at least 4-6 weeks in advance.


Asia & the Pacific, Intra-Regional

Space and equipment throughout Asian ports remains tight for October. Delays are expected as schedule reliability remains at an all-time low. Accurate forecast and 4-6 weeks advance booking remain a necessity. For IPBC, with multiple blank sailings in September, shipments remain stuck at origin and transhipment port. Dwell time for containers at transhipment port is about 6-8 weeks. Reduction of capacity in October is expected as carriers are announcing blank sailings due to Golden Week. 


Sources: JOC, OOCL, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, Shanghai Containerized Freight Index, Ceicdata (China export and import data), Drewry, Mallory, OSA Shipping and other general info from trade & logistic partners.

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