The ocean freight situation

The coronavirus pandemic and the running aground of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal showed just how susceptible global supply chains are to disruption. What has happened since then?

One piece of good news is that the Suez Canal jam has now been cleared; however, the Ever Given was still in the Great Bitter Lake, between the southern and northern parts of the Suez Canal, until 7 July 2021, after the shipping company declared general average and there was a dispute with the Egyptian authorities about the amount of compensation to be paid for the damage. An agreement with a price tag in the hundreds of millions was reached at the beginning of July.

Although the ships stuck in the traffic jam behind the Ever Given were eventually able to resume their journey, shipping schedules were considerably disrupted as a result of their waiting time. As the capacity of many destination ports had already been completely exhausted by the coronavirus pandemic before the accident, several ships had to be unloaded in Wilhelmshaven or Bremerhaven rather than in Hamburg, for example. Urgently needed empty equipment (containers) is generally difficult to obtain and only available at an extremely high cost, if at all, in Germany.

After coronavirus outbreaks recently caused another temporary lockdown in Yantian, one of China’s most important ports, many ships were rerouted to the neighbouring ports of Shekou, Nansha and Hong Kong or anchored off Yantian, causing a traffic jam there. The neighbouring ports soon also reported full capacity and traffic jams at their mouth. Analysts and the shipping company Maersk independently report that the container backlog in Yantian was greater than in the Suez Canal accident. All of this disrupts the synchronised schedules and exacerbates the shortage of available empty containers – with an evident domino effect worldwide that is set to continue for some time. Freight and equipment prices are already at historic highs and will drive up prices of industrial and consumer goods.

Sources: DVZ (German logistics newspaper), Weser Kurier (Bremen daily newspaper)

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