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Containers out of northern China are becoming increasingly hard to get hold of, report forwarders.

A surprisingly strong market, plus lower vessel capacity due to the Red Sea crisis, is creating a shortage of both ships and containers.

“There is a very real shortage of 40’ HC in China – we are all running out,” said Hans-Henrik Nielson, global development director at CargoGulf.

“Containers are barely arriving at any PRC or Malaysian port (or Singapore) before they are out laden again. The disruptions (port omissions, congestion) are playing total havoc with equipment planning.

“When I say it’s week-to-week scrambling, I’m really not exaggerating. Right now there are way too many empties in Colombo for instance and the upper Gulf ports. No amount of sophisticated equipment software can fix a “cut and run port omission.”

Ligentia confirmed the shortage today in a message to customers. “Equipment stock, particularly in North China, is tight and varies daily based on vessel arrivals and the discharge of empty containers.”

It added that in Shanghai, “almost all carriers are lacking empties, especially CMA and ANL”. Vessel waiting time at the port is now three to 14 days, it added, due to port congestion. “Across almost all carriers we are seeing schedule delays.”

It also noted that carriers are struggling to obtain containers across many more Chinese ports, including Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd  in Yantian; Cosco, HMM, Hapag-Lloyd and MSC in Ningbo, Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk in Tianjin, and Cosco and CMA CGM in Qingdao.

Xiamen, meanwhile, has sufficient containers, Ligentia said.

“The market remains strong and carriers continue to be increasingly selective about bookings.

“Some BCOs are seeking additional quotes from carriers to handle expected excess volume in the upcoming months. Carriers have also announced blank sailings for June, leading to a significant capacity reduction of 15-20%, exacerbating week-to-week capacity fluctuations,” it added.

Metro Shipping said that there were “increasing equipment challenges in more origins, and it would be prudent to expect more of the same”.

Mr Nielsen added: “The current market demand defies all projections from six to nine months ago.

“We are close to what I call “covid19 shipper capitulation” – ie, there is no point fighting this. Just book space forward to ensure transport.

“It’s pure Kirkegaardian existentialism. You don’t see this too many times in a professional shipping career,” he said referring to 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard.

One of his most celebrated ideas is the “leap of faith” – when someone is faced with two choices but no rational way of deciding which is the better option, their decision will have no basis in reason and instead literally be a leap of faith.

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  • Rich Curley

    May 26, 2024 at 1:29 pm

    Really helpful update. Thanks!

  • Ajay Bansal

    May 27, 2024 at 2:48 am

    Just a daylight Robbery. what is stopping carriers from bringing empties back from the ports having empties. they are being used to create congestion there to make more excuse.