"Customers have to show unprecedented flexibility, otherwise it may take even longer or become more expensive," warns Alf Hoernig, General Manager Seafreight Import and Customs Service at a. hartrodt in Hamburg. Due to the Suez Canal blockade at the end of March and the Covid-19 pandemic, the handling situation remains tense, and not only at the ports in Europe. Hoernig recommends to sea freight customers not to stick to existing processes. In individual cases, it is more effective to load containers late in the evening or at night: "Due to the high number of containers at the terminals, the slot windows required for delivery or acceptance of the cargo are booked up well in advance during daytime".
Schedulers are heavily challenged
After the "Ever Given" accident, cargo backlogs have to be cleared in the ports. At the same time, the dockers are working in "thinned-out shifts" due to Corona, explains Hoernig. As a result, it currently takes considerably longer to load and unload a container ship. An additional challenge for the schedulers: "Some vessels arrive up to three weeks late," reports Hoernig. Nevertheless, the a. hartrodt team always finds a solution.
Delays in ship arrivals, longer laytimes in the ports
Jan Buelck, Managing Director at a. hartrodt in Hong Kong (China), observes problems in all trade lanes – whether between China and Europe/USA or on intra-Asian trade. Less than half of all ship arrivals are on time, he says, while at the same time freight rates have "increased more than a factor of five in some cases". He explains why vessels are staying longer in ports: At the beginning of the pandemic, carriers had reduced their cargo space significantly, and now "all available capacity is being thrown onto the market". Handling is "slow to catch up", he says, so Southern Chinese ports such as Shenzhen have narrowed the time window for container pickup and delivery to four days.
In order to restore reliability of schedules, quite a few ship departures have been canceled in Asia (Blank Sailings), according to Buelck. He expects a more relaxed market situation "in the third quarter at the earliest". Until then, for less than container loads (LCL) from Europe to China, a. hartrodt's China train service, Stars on Rails, can be an alternative.