A new round of cancelled sailings by major container shipping lines could be inevitable after the six-day disruption to Suez Canal transit last month further deteriorated schedule reliability for shipments from Asia to East Coast North America, market sources said.
The Suez Canal Authority said all 422 ships stuck in queue after the grounding of the Ever Given in the southern segment of the canal on March 23 had finally made their transit by April 3.
But the ripple effects of the incident across global networks could be felt in the weeks or months to come as the one-week delay in arrivals to East Coast North America leads to an equivalent delay for the ships returning to Asia, Danish shipping line AP Moller-Maresk said in an advisory to customers on March 31.
“Ultimately a right sizing of the network will have to be taken in order to account for the continued delays, and this will unfortunately come in the form of blank (cancelled) sailings as that remains the only option to bring schedule reliability back in line,” Maersk said.
Shipments from South and Southeast Asia to the US East Coast could be among those most affected as the growing trade lanes utilize the shorter westbound route through the Suez Canal, while shipments from North Asia to the US East Coast typically transit the Panama Canal from an eastbound direction.
Shipments handled by French shipping line CMA CGM from Malaysia’s Port Klang to the US East Coast ports of New York/New Jersey, Norfolk, Savannah and Charleston increased by 105% in the combined months of January and February 2021 from the same period last year, according to data from Panjiva, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
“US East Coast ports’ imports from Western India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Middle East are likely to be the most exposed to the closure of the Suez Canal,” Panjiva said in a research note on March 31. “Leading importers in the US who are potentially exposed to such routings include apparel and retail firms PVH and H&M with 5,215 TEUs and 2,580 TEUs respectively shipped in the 12 months to Feb. 28.”
A spokesperson for the Port of New York and New Jersey said they expect a drop in import volumes this week with 10-11 incoming ships delayed by the Suez incident. A spokesperson for the Port of Savannah said they expect some vessel bunching as nine Savannah-bound vessels were rerouted around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope while three proceeded through the canal.
“Due to the rapid clearing of the Suez backlog, you will now get peaks of ships arriving in 1-2 weeks and some will need to wait,” said Andy Lane, CEO of the Port of Belize. “Then you will get another small lull, before those ships which diverted around Africa arrive and a second peak. Some say that this will go on for months, but in reality April and May for terminals on the main east-west trade lanes will suffer peaks and troughs.”
The disruption to shipping schedules and strong potential for cancelled sailings could support container freight rates from Asia to Europe and North America in the months ahead as importers grow fearful of their cargoes getting rolled to a later date, said Lars Jensen, CEO of SeaIntelligence Consulting.
“Shippers will be extremely anxious to secure capacity – vessel space as well as equipment – for their own shipments, and hence this pressure could serve to either drive rates up or to maintain rates which are still at historically high levels,” Jensen said.