Shipping Lines Skip a Beat

Global ports lost more than one-third of their expected capacity to ship containers in 2021, causing economic trouble for some smaller developing nations, among others, finds research commissioned by the Global Shippers Forum (GSF).

The study, which was conducted by MDS Transmodal, identifies the extent of capacity restriction in 2021 that resulted from scheduled port calls being skipped by shipping lines. It measured the number of container ship slots that were expected to be available at the port but never materialized because the lines skipped the port—often because vessels were already fully occupied by containers collected at ports called at earlier on the service.

Among the hardest-hit were the ports of Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Piraeus (Greece), where about 40% of expected container capacity never arrived during the last quarter of 2021—a sharp increase from the 15-20% that the ports saw before the pandemic. In Asia Pacific, Port Klang in Malaysia also saw a 40% shortfall, while Melbourne (Australia) and Tauranga (New Zealand) were down by around one-third of the expected container capacity during the second half of 2021. In 2019, average no-shows at those ports amounted to between 10 and 15% of expected capacity.

Skipped ports have become part of how shipping lines are managing their heavily utilized fleets.

“Skipped port calls have multiple effects on shippers,” says James Hookham, director of the GSF. “They create local upward pressure on shipping rates, as shipping line agents ‘auction off’ available slots on the vessels that do call. Shippers also face unexpected surcharges for the handling and storage of delayed containers.

“More pernicious is the wider effect on national economies, especially those of developing nations that lose opportunity to deliver their exports, and hinder the recovery of their economy from the effects of lockdowns and COVID restrictions,” Hookham adds.

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