© Rogerashford | felixstowe_23058847
Port of Felixstowe with a full moon © Rogerashford.

With no end in sight to the Red Sea crisis, it is highly likely that Asia-Europe vessels will continue to divert around the Cape of Good Hope, posing a new challenge for European importers and their logistics providers: when is the final cut-off date for Christmas goods leaving Asia?

Put it another way – industry talk over the past two months has largely centred around the causes of surging spot rate levels, and one question at the heart of the phenomenon has been whether we are seeing an early peak season. If it is the case, as many European forwarders claim, when will it end?

The short answer is: Asia-Europe peak season will officially end two weeks earlier than normal, and that makes the timing of China’s Golden Week holiday especially complicated.

Beginning 1 October, China shuts down for a week, causing a pre-holiday rush at its ports to get the maximum cargo out, followed – sometimes – by a deluge once the country gets back to work.

“If you don’t get your cargo on the ship and you have missed the last vessel out of Asia at the end of September, then peak season is going to very challenging – that is when we will begin to see the air freight spike.

“Most retailers need all goods in their system two weeks before Christmas; they want all the shipping and transport from ports and containers destuffed by 10 December, at the absolute latest.

“With current haulage booking waits – in the UK currently around seven days – that would mean you going to be wanting the vessel to be arriving around 23-24 November,” one senior forwarder told The Loadstar.

According to the proforma schedules of several carriers, the current transit time from Shanghai to Felixstowe is between six and seven weeks, assuming no delays en route.

For example, the 2M’s AE55/Griffin Sweeper service, advertising a departure from Shanghai on 5 October, is scheduled to arrive at Felixstowe on 16 November, while the Shanghai departure on 12 November has an ETA of 23 November – both sailing times of 47 days.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Alliance’s NEU1 and NEU6 services advertise transit times of 42-44 days between the same ports.

However, with global schedule reliability levels currently at around 50%, and vessel arrivals now averaging five days late, it is uncertain whether cargo loaded on these ships – which would have to take place in Shanghai during Golden Week – would arrive in the UK in time for onward distribution and retail shelves in time for the Christmas shopping spree.

Some shippers appear to already be aware of the constricted nature of this year’s peak season, one forwarder told The Loadstar recently.

“I do think this is an early peak season, but I also believe it will continue to Golden Week. After speaking with customers, they are mindful of the current challenges and do not want to be in a situation where they have no stock for Christmas, and are forecasting strong orders until at least then,” he explained.

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