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Blank sailings, escalating freight rates and a shortage of equipment continue to hobble European exporters.
Shippers to Asia and the US are facing lengthy delays and uncertainty for container bookings as the knock-on effect of short-notice carrier blanking programmes plays havoc with supply chains.
As a consequence, rates have soared, particularly to Asia where they have doubled in the past year, and in some instances are being increased after containers have been delivered to the export quay.
And shippers are still struggling with equipment availability, with shortages due to vessel schedule changes, which have resulted in significant disruption to carrier container control systems.
One senior ocean carrier operations manager told The Loadstar recently its systems were “in a state of chaos”.
“We are spending a fortune on positioning equipment that has come off at the wrong hub port, plus we are having to lease more containers than we really need to to cover acute shortages in the regions,” he added.
However, according to the latest survey by online equipment platform XChange, container availability in Europe is “on the rise”. In line with the reduction in the number of blank sailings, XChange’s Container Availability Index (CAx) recorded an improving picture for European exporters.
“Containers are moving again,” said XChange, “with higher levels of equipment availability across European ports. Containers are now being loaded and returned, though the industry is still working on a lower heat than what we were used to before the corona pandemic.”
Nevertheless, it noted that “some ports and depots were already filled with equipment” and the overstocking in some hubs and depots would remain, “especially when we combine a lower than usual level of demand with containers that are being returned to depots”.
And there is some good news for Hamburg shippers, from the CAx report. In March the CAx was reporting equipment shortages at the German hub port due to the impact of the original Chinese lockdown. At the time the port’s marketing division refuted the suggestion of container shortages but conceded that carriers and their customers “might run into temporary bottlenecks”.
However, according to the latest CAx reading, container availability in Hamburg is “increasing”, especially for standard 20 ft boxes with a value of 0.47 in week 29 increasing to 0.78 by week 31. A value is above 0.5 indicates a container surplus, while a reading below 0.5 suggests a deficit of equipment.
And as an example of the unbalanced equipment situation around Europe, the CAx reading for a standard 40 ft box in Genoa recorded an availability of just 0.01, an indication of an acute shortage of equipment in the region.