Last year, the hefty price increases of 2020 and 2021 were almost entirely rolled back. Those increases were due to the pandemic and nervousness in global trade. Uncertainties and lockdowns had so disrupted maritime cargo flows that unprecedented delays occurred everywhere. This created a vicious cycle of accumulated delays in port transhipments and panic reactions among traders. The result was enormous pressure on the chain and an unprecedented rise in freight prices.
On most continents, the maritime disruptions also had an impact on truck transport. In fact, road freight was already struggling before the pandemic, particularly due to the shortage of truck drivers.
But as we all know, the overreaction during the pandemic wasn’t underpinned by significantly higher demand. It was mainly manufacturers and distributors who panicked and aggressively tried to stock up to protect their market share or keep their production lines running.
Delays aren’t a thing of the past yet
Now transport prices have almost completely returned to pre-pandemic levels. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that the industry isn’t facing challenges. Congestion does seem to have cleared in North American ports for now, but since the summer, those delays have been spreading to some European ports. This is putting pressure on the transhipment sector in our region.
Additionally, staff shortages, strikes, and difficult wage negotiations are causing further backlogs at the transhipment ports of Bremen and Hamburg. Antwerp has also been struggling with capacity problems for several months, after the backlogs were largely cleared during the spring. Whether or not that accordion effect will continue on other continents is still unknown. Nevertheless we notice that nervousness is already growing again in the hyper-connected maritime world, especially at US container ports.
Docks full of empty containers
The fact that calm has not quite returned to maritime logistics is also evident in some major container ports. For instance, port authorities have been watching with dismay for quite some time as walls of containers pile up, from Los Angeles, Hamburg/Bremen, and Rotterdam to our own Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Ships are arriving late, so containers are not transferred, emptied, and returned to the system on schedule. Or empty containers are taking up valuable space at ports.
If the expected upcoming recession lingers, this could cause far-reaching disruptions within logistics chains. Ships are already being scrapped on some lines, causing some ports to worry that they won’t be able to get rid of containers in the coming months. So once again there are exciting times ahead in the world of maritime logistics.
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