Still no land in sight in Asia traffic

Chinese New Year delays vessel clearances, Europe's container terminals run full.

Matthias Pichler and his 25-member team at a. hartrodt in Hamburg are still in constant action: "We struggle with almost every shipment. Everything is done here to ensure that the customer is satisfied," says the General Manager Ocean Freight Asia. As sea containers and space on the vessels continue to be scarce due to Corona, the freight forwarders now have to deal with a sea freight booking from Europe to Asia "up to ten times". At the beginning of February, extreme weather conditions in Germany with snow, black ice and flooding exacerbated the situation.

Transhipments suspended in South China

"From a global perspective, a lot of volume is tied up by a constant, very high demand for freight between Asia and North America," explains Pichler. He identifies "another construction site" in South China at the moment: "Due to the Chinese New Year, transhipments are suspended there until the end of February." Vessel clearances are delayed for several weeks, which cannot be made up on the way back to Europe. There in the meantime, the terminals run full with export containers due to the vessel delays.

Shortened delivery time, delayed vessels

"The terminal operators are forced to take countermeasures and react with shortened delivery times. For example, they currently accept export containers only 48 hours before the ship's departure," explains Pichler. In order to avoid additional costs and still deliver the containers to the port on time, the freight forwarders have to reschedule already planned lead times more and more often. This is anything but trivial: "Today, almost 45 percent of all ships worldwide arrive on time," says Jan Buelck, Managing Director Hong Kong & South China, at a. hartrodt in Hong Kong. For exports to Europe, he also reports a difficult situation with freight rates "at a high level". In the middle of the second quarter, he expects "an adjustment of the market".

Despite difficult general conditions, a. hartrodt wants to ensure planning security for customers. "The earlier we receive bookings, the more options we can offer flexibly," says Pichler. "Our sales staff is on hand to advise on the planning process," adds Buelck.