Backlogged ports, a shortage of shipping containers and not enough workers are among the factors contributing to supply chain disruptions that have led to shortages of various goods and are likely to impact availability of merchandise, during the upcoming holiday season.

Demand is growing rapidly as the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic have diminished. However, lingering consequences of the pandemic are continuing to impact the container shipping market. With each element in the system tightly intertwined, any changes tend to ripple with additional repercussions.

Slow circulatory movement of containers

A direct upshot of the COVID-19 pandemic was to slow the circulatory movement of containers globally. To increase productivity and save time, some vessels began making their return journeys empty, in effect leaving more empty containers at the delivery destination and fewer at the source of shipments.

The varied timing of the pandemic in Asia and the West compounded the problem

At one point, Asian containers could not be sent back to Asia, because of COVID-19 restrictions in place. The varied timing of the pandemic in Asia and the West compounded the problem. With empty containers stacking up in the West and a shortage in the East, slower circulation of containers and higher demand have led to sharp increases in costs.

Millions of TEU dry container units added

A lack of new equipment is not the problem. Last year, the industry added about 2.8 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) units of dry containers, in line with the 10-year average.

Congestion at ports has been going on for months and still continues. Recently, in the San Pedro Bay region, near the Port of Long Beach, in California, there were 144 ships, including 85 ships that were waiting to unload. In Savannah, Georgia, more than 20 container ships were waiting to dock. Ports in the US states of New Jersey, New York and Texas have also seen record backlogs.

Majority of influential global ports face backlogs

According to one report, 77% of the most influential ports in the world reported above-average wait times this year. The turn-around time for a container in ports has nearly doubled in 2021, in comparison to 2019.

A worker shortage at the ports is aggravating the problem and container ships now carry about 30% more goods, which require more labour to unload. Ports are also doing the additional work with fewer people. There is also reduced labour productivity at warehouses and marine terminals.

Investment in workforce training to counter bottlenecks

Some port bosses expect the bottlenecks to last through the summer of 2022. To address the problem, some ports are investing in workforce training and scheduling night-time appointments to pick up goods.

Although a lot of attention is focused on the ports, they are just one element in the troubled supply chain. Even if the ports could increase their capacity, downstream processes would also have to increase their labour force, to accommodate the higher volume.

Difficult to absorb impact of global supply chain disruptions

In the best of times, the global supply chain operates like a well-oiled machine

In the best of times, the global supply chain operates like a well-oiled machine, despite its complexity and the inter-relatedness of various stakeholders. However, the sheer size of the system makes it difficult to absorb the impact of any disruptions. Turning the system around takes time, and a burgeoning global demand for goods, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, makes recovery even more difficult.

The Biden Administration in the U.S. has established a Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, to monitor and address short-term supply issues. This task force is convening meetings of stakeholders in industries with urgent supply-chain problems, such as construction and semiconductors, to identify the immediate bottlenecks, as well as potential solutions.

Role of global supply chain more critical now

There have been supply chain disruption and staff shortages in several countries, including the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and New Zealand, according to business surveys.

As the economy recovered and demand increased, businesses have not yet been able to bring inventories fully back to pre-pandemic levels, causing inventory-to-sales ratios to fall. The role of the global supply chain has never been more critical.

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Larry Anderson Editor, MaritimeInformed.com

An experienced journalist and editor, Larry is MaritimeInformed.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing maritime marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing maritime leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads MaritimeInformed.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for maritime professionals. Larry also commissions Expert Commentary / Thought Leadership features, providing a platform for the industry's top executives to comment on the dynamic maritime industry.

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Backlogged ports among symptoms of global supply chain disruption
Backlogged ports among symptoms of global supply chain disruption

Backlogged ports, a shortage of shipping containers and not enough workers are among the factors contributing to supply chain disruptions that have led to shortages of various goods and are likely to impact availability of merchandise, during the upcoming holiday season. Demand is growing rapidly as the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic have diminished. However, lingering consequences of the pandemic are continuing to impact the container shipping market. With each element in the system tightly intertwined, any changes tend to ripple with additional repercussions. Slow circulatory movement of containers A direct upshot of the COVID-19 pandemic was to slow the circulatory movement of containers globally. To increase productivity and save time, some vessels began making their return journeys empty, in effect leaving more empty containers at the delivery destination and fewer at the source of shipments. The varied timing of the pandemic in Asia and the West compounded the problem At one point, Asian containers could not be sent back to Asia, because of COVID-19 restrictions in place. The varied timing of the pandemic in Asia and the West compounded the problem. With empty containers stacking up in the West and a shortage in the East, slower circulation of containers and higher demand have led to sharp increases in costs. Millions of TEU dry container units added A lack of new equipment is not the problem. Last year, the industry added about 2.8 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) units of dry containers, in line with the 10-year average. Congestion at ports has been going on for months and still continues. Recently, in the San Pedro Bay region, near the Port of Long Beach, in California, there were 144 ships, including 85 ships that were waiting to unload. In Savannah, Georgia, more than 20 container ships were waiting to dock. Ports in the US states of New Jersey, New York and Texas have also seen record backlogs. Majority of influential global ports face backlogs According to one report, 77% of the most influential ports in the world reported above-average wait times this year. The turn-around time for a container in ports has nearly doubled in 2021, in comparison to 2019. A worker shortage at the ports is aggravating the problem and container ships now carry about 30% more goods, which require more labour to unload. Ports are also doing the additional work with fewer people. There is also reduced labour productivity at warehouses and marine terminals. Investment in workforce training to counter bottlenecks Some port bosses expect the bottlenecks to last through the summer of 2022. To address the problem, some ports are investing in workforce training and scheduling night-time appointments to pick up goods. Although a lot of attention is focused on the ports, they are just one element in the troubled supply chain. Even if the ports could increase their capacity, downstream processes would also have to increase their labour force, to accommodate the higher volume. Difficult to absorb impact of global supply chain disruptions In the best of times, the global supply chain operates like a well-oiled machine In the best of times, the global supply chain operates like a well-oiled machine, despite its complexity and the inter-relatedness of various stakeholders. However, the sheer size of the system makes it difficult to absorb the impact of any disruptions. Turning the system around takes time, and a burgeoning global demand for goods, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, makes recovery even more difficult. The Biden Administration in the U.S. has established a Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, to monitor and address short-term supply issues. This task force is convening meetings of stakeholders in industries with urgent supply-chain problems, such as construction and semiconductors, to identify the immediate bottlenecks, as well as potential solutions. Role of global supply chain more critical now There have been supply chain disruption and staff shortages in several countries, including the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and New Zealand, according to business surveys. As the economy recovered and demand increased, businesses have not yet been able to bring inventories fully back to pre-pandemic levels, causing inventory-to-sales ratios to fall. The role of the global supply chain has never been more critical.

How the maritime industry is working to lower carbon emissions
How the maritime industry is working to lower carbon emissions

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Measures to reduce carbon emissions Binding across its 170 member states, IMO has adopted mandatory measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases under its pollution prevention treaty (MARPOL). The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) is mandatory for new ships, and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) is required for all ships. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) is a multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the sustainability of the shipping industry in terms of social, environmental, and economic impacts. Founded in September 2010, SSI has 15 members spanning the shipping value chain, from charterers, shipowners and operators, to shipyards, banks, classification societies, and technology companies. Poseidon Principles Poseidon Principles are consistent with efforts of the IMO to reduce shipping’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions The Poseidon Principles establish a framework for banks and financial institutions to assess and disclose the climate alignment of ships to provide guidance and promote responsible environmental stewardship. The Poseidon Principles, signed by 20 financial institutions representing over $150 billion in loans to the shipping industry, are consistent with efforts of the IMO, seeking to reduce shipping’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050. Decarbonisation goals Some shipping companies are already setting individual decarbonisation goals beyond the IMO’s target, driven by their customers’ desire to reduce their global carbon footprint. The intensity of emissions has decreased somewhat in recent years because of larger ship sizes and slower traveling speeds. 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Cruise industry receives lifeline from Finnish pioneers in safety innovation race
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