Majestic Maersk at Felixstowe

Few corners of the global container supply chain were left unscathed by severe congestion at terminals last year, but new data from IHS Markit, released today, shows just how significant the problem became.

According to the research group, vessel time in ports around the world shot up in the second half of last year, and it was the largest vessels that were most heavily affected by congestion.

Ships exchanging 6,000 boxes or more on a port call saw their average time at berth increase by an average of 20%, to more than 83 hours.

IHS Markit calculates in-port time from arrival at port limits to departure from berth, but excludes waiting time outside the port, which means the “overall delays for ships are likely to be higher due to extended anchoring outside ports as ships waited for berths became available”.

Some ports were hit worse than others: Los Angeles and Long Beach saw combined average in-port time for ships with workloads of more than 6,000 moves rise to more than 170 hours in the fourth quarter, up from 112 hours in the third quarter and 102 hours for similar workloads in Q4 19.

Similarly, congestion was the defining feature of operations at the UK gateway of Felixstowe last year, where the average vessel time in port rose 34%, to more than 92 hours for ships exchanging 6,000 boxes or more.

Even ports with some of the typically highest productivity rates were hit – the Chinese gateway of Qingdao saw average in-port time for ships exchanging more than 6,000 boxes increase 21% year on year, to over 50 hours in the second half of last year, while at Singapore, for vessels with similar numbers of exchanges, in-port time grew 22%, to an average of 45 hours.

“Restrictions imposed by Covid-19 saw a huge increase in port delays last year, costing time and money for cargo owners and ship and terminal operators, increasing emissions and heavily disrupting supply chains,” said Turloch Mooney, associate director at IHS Markit.

“As world trade is set to grow this year, it is important that ports operate as efficiently as possible, as trading economies seek to get clear of the negative economic impact of the pandemic,” he added.

IHS Markit Port Performance data also shows global port delays for ships doing smaller workloads were up between 7.8% and 9.5%, depending on the call size.

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