Date: 08.04.2021

Carriers tackle post-Suez scheduling and equipment issues

As global shipping struggles to adjust from the Ever Given grounding and the six day Suez Canal closure, container carriers have the challenge of recovering schedules and repositioning containers due to the effect of over a week’s loss of capacity.

With close to 20 container shipping services calling at ports across Europe and Asia each week, a lot of capacity has been lost and the challenge facing the shipping lines is made that much harder as all spare capacity in ocean and terminal infrastructure has been maxed out, after months of continuously strong demand in an unstable and stretched environment. 

One week has been lost at the Suez and with no ships arriving in Asia and in Europe the lines will be seeking ways to mitigate the worst of the delays, getting the vessels into ports, getting cargo off and on, and then getting the ships back.

The Evergreen Ever Given remains at anchor in the Suez canal system and the ship operator and owners declared ‘general average’ on 1st April – and this was no fool’s joke.

Attention is on the first east and westbound ports of call because that’s where the initial crush will be and they will be hit by a wave of vessels over the next few weeks, with ships  coming through the canal in bunches.

To mitigate the delays, instead of completing a port rotation in Asia or Europe, it is possible that ships could offload cargo at ports not originally designated as the destination and turn around early, leaving ships arriving later to collect the offloaded cargo and take it on to its final destination port. We are already experiencing this with several carriers completely omitting the UK or simply offloading all cargo in the Mediterranean region to avoid delays on return rotations.

Alternating the order of port visit might appeal, but the problem if vessels deviate from their scheduled port calls is that loaded containers have been stowed according to the planned port rotation, with the boxes loaded last being offloaded first, which means that the terminal would need to dig its way through those boxes taking longer and the ship may not be able to leave the berth in time causing an impact to vessels that had the subsequent berthing slot allocated.

Hapag-Lloyd operates 11 Asia-Europe services and is considering options such as merging services or omitting ports as a way to recover schedules and thinks it will take six to eight weeks for this situation to be resolved.

There is mounting concern over the effect that the disruption will have on container availability, with delays in returning boxes to Asian hubs exacerbating the equipment shortages that already exist in those areas, especially on the very heavily oversubscribed China origin baseports.

In a customer advisory Hapag-Lloyd confirmed that “with the current challenging equipment situation and the high degree of uncertainty in terms of the Suez Canal effect, we foresee that the equipment supply in [mainland] China and Hong Kong will be even more challenging in the coming weeks.” This is one of now many advisories that shipping lines are beginning to issue as their plans and decisions are being formulated and agreed.

The global supply chain situation post the Suez Blockage will continue to evolve for some weeks and possibly months, and plans, decisions and schedules will have to adapt to this changing environment. We have launched last week a ‘real-time’ GPS application on our MVT platform monitoring all vessels effected by the events which all clients now have direct access to, down to consignment level.

We are flexing, updating and adding alternative solutions and recoveries, across all modes of transport and geographies, to keep your supply chains fully functioning, without further impact. We are experiencing requests for our award winning air and sea/air products as a recovery for ocean freight delays.

We will continue to share important updates as the situation evolves and would urge you to contact us directly if you have questions or concerns. Our team stand ready to assist you, with further advice, information and guidance, so please contact Metro for the best solutions and service, regardless of the situation and conditions. For further information please contact Elliot Carlile or Grant Liddell who would recommend and encourage full engagement with Metro and a discussion to ensure that every deadline is achieved where possible within the current market conditions.