• Back-to-back typhoons cause severe congestion at Chinese ports

    27 August 2018

    Customers shipping goods through the Chinese ports of Qingdao, Shanghai and Ningbo on the eastern coastline can expect delays over the next few weeks as a series of typhoons has forced ports to intermittently shut down operations and container lines to adjust schedules. With two more typhoons approaching in the East China Sea, container lines have begun to omit calls at the Port of Shanghai to ease congestion pressures, which Japanese carrier ONE has described as the worst in the last 5-10 years.

    In an unusually intense typhoon season, a series of strong typhoons have made landfall back-to-back near Shanghai over the past weeks, causing heavy rain, severe winds and strong gusts in the Yangtze River delta. In a customer advisory early last week, container line CMA CGM stated that adverse weather has affected its shipping operations and this is likely to lead to service adjustments in East Asia. Other container lines have reported average dwell times of up to 3 days for vessels arriving at container terminals at the Port of Shanghai and Ningbo, leading to accumulated delays of up to 6 days for vessels calling at both ports. Similarly, long port closures have also increased vessel waiting times to 2.5 days at the Port of Qingdao.

    Due to the inbound congestion, departure times for vessels loaded with export shipments have also been delayed at all ports. In Shanghai, once containers are gated in the deep-sea terminal in Yangshan, shipments cannot be exported anymore from an unaffected or less congested port such as Waigaoqiao, the port’s other major container terminal. Shipments are then likely be delayed for an additional week until they are loaded onto the next scheduled vessel. For import shipments, spacing issues at terminal yards in Shanghai are expected further exacerbate the congestion issues caused by the long dwell times at the port.

    To mitigate the accumulated delays, shipping lines Maersk and MSC have already begun to omit port calls at Shanghai and have diverted vessels to Ningbo, which offers direct rail connection to the Chinese hinterland. Omissions were also possible at other Chinese ports such as Nansha or Yantian near Shenzhen for schedule recovery purposes. In the past, ocean carriers have also launched feeder services from the congested ports to transship at less-affected ports to avoid vessels being stuck in berthing line-ups. Customers with an interest in import shipments could also explore the possibility of clearing customs in Shanghai but arranging pick-ups of containers in Ningbo.

    Earlier this week, there have been reports of knock-on effects on other Asian ports. A concentrated arrival of container vessels from China has reportedly caused severe berth congestion at the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) in the Philippines, where vessels arriving outside of their pre-scheduled booking window have to wait 3-4 days as of this writing.

    Over the coming days, further disruptions are expected from Ningbo to Qingdao due to the passing of another storm, namely Typhoon Soulik. As a result, shipping sources have advised that congestion issues are unlikely to improve in the short-term. In case weather conditions stabilize from the beginning of this week, it may take up to two weeks for operations to return to normal in Shanghai and Ningbo. Customers can expect persistent shipment delays and additional charges until mid-September 2018.

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