Maersk temporarily pauses Red Sea routings after new attacks

Maersk on Sunday said it would pause any further transits through the Red Sea for at least 48 hours after one of its container ships was attacked twice within 24 hours by Houthi rebels who do not appear deterred by the presence of a multinational naval force meant to restore security in the region.


The second attack against the Maersk Hangzhou this weekend represented an escalation in hostilities as Houthis used small boats to get within 65 feet of the 14,000-TEU vessel in an attempt to board the ship, which Maersk said was not damaged by missiles fired by the attackers. Until Sunday, the Iran-backed Houthis have attacked ships by firing missiles and launching drones from southern Yemen.


“Maersk can…confirm that after the initial attack on the vessel, four boats approached the vessel and engaged fire in an expected attempt to board the vessel,” the carrier said in a statement Sunday. “A helicopter was deployed from a nearby navy vessel, and in collaboration with the vessel’s security team, the boarding attempt was successfully repelled.


“In light of the incident – and to allow time to investigate the details of the incident and assess the security situation further – it has been decided to delay all transits through the area until 2nd January,” Maersk added.

Maersk said the vessel, bound for Port Suez after initially departing Singapore, was continuing its sailing northbound.


Responding to the 23rd attack on a commercial ship since Nov. 19, US Navy helicopters sank three of the four small vessels involved, killing the crews, the US Central Command said Sunday.


The attacks against the Maersk Hangzhou came one week after the carrier, responding to the creation of the naval task force, said it would resume some sailings through the Red Sea and Suez Canal once operationally possible. But Maersk warned in its Dec. 24 announcement that its resumption of Suez transits could change if the security situation deteriorated further.


Naval escorts not a sufficient deterrent yet 


It was not immediately known what effect the Maersk attacks would have on other carriers, namely Cosco and CMA CGM, that had also been sending some of their ships through the Suez. At first blush, it is likely to send even more capacity diverting around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa.


At the very least for ocean carriers, it means that a protection regime has not materialized that guarantees freedom of navigation through the Bab al-Mandab strait and eliminates or significantly reduces the risk of attack in the area. No organized system of naval escorts or convoys has come into existence, nor have land-based threats been eliminated or seriously confronted. Rather, senior ocean carrier executives tell the Journal of Commerce, the Operational Prosperity Guardian coalition is relying on deterrence created by its physical presence and its ability, for the most part successfully thus far, to intercept air-based weapons to keep the Suez route open to at least some shipping traffic.


But it’s clearly not enough, illustrating the difficulties the US is facing in balancing its desires to protect freedom of navigation while seeking to avoid escalating the Israeli-Hamas war into a full-blown regional conflict. As long as broader US goals conflict with those of protecting shipping and an effective protective regime fails to materialize, ships will continue to be diverted around the much longer Cape of Good Hope route, disrupting supply chains.


Geopolitical analysts warn that the patrols can help shield vessels, but the Houthi rebels are well-placed to keep up attacks via relatively cheap drones and missile attacks from the shore of southern Yemen. S&P analysts and container lines carriers tell the Journal of Commerce that earlier suspicions that rebels were targeting vessels tied to Israel were incorrect, putting any ships – regardless of shipowner — in danger.


“If the Houthis keep up the pace of attacks and have a steady supply of drones and missiles (which seems likely), the cost of maintaining a naval escort operation — including the costs of operating the ships at distance — will rapidly rise into the tens of billions of dollars,” Bruce Jones, a geopolitical analyst and TPM23 speaker, wrote in Foreign Policy.


Rates, meanwhile, are spiraling upwards. Spots rates for North Asia to Europe have more than doubled over the past week, from $1,900 per FEU to $4,500 per FEU as of Dec. 28, according to Platts, a sister company of the Journal of Commerce within S&P Global. Rates to Mediterranean ports have jumped to $5,000 per FEU from $2,300 a week ago.


Hapag-Lloyd and Mediterranean Shipping Co., both of which have seen their ships attacked, say they’ll keep diverting cargo around the Cape of Good Hope. Ocean Network Express is continuing to reroute as well. One of the major ocean carriers said it on-hired 150,000 containers to offset the absorption of container equipment tied up in the longer sailings around the Cape of Good Hope.


“It’s unfortunate to have to admit, but this sea lane is not safe for our seafarers,” Bud Darr, executive vice president of maritime policy and government affairs at MSC Group, wrote on LinkedIn on Thursday. “I genuinely hope the military operators and diplomats can change that very soon, but for now, no seafarers should have to endure what ours did during this extensive attack (Tuesday).”


CMA CGM is also diverting some, but not all, of its ships around Africa.


Carriers weighing options 


Container lines are adjusting networks to the longer transits, with MSC tightening up so-called free time for containers and Cosco offering to route East Coast cargo through the West Coast via rail.  The moves by MSC and Cosco join a host of rate increases going into effect in January as ocean carriers seek to recover the higher operating costs for the longer voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.


Seeing the risk of equipment shortages, MSC will reduce free time for containers in North America from 10 to seven days starting Jan. 1, according to a notice from an Asia-based freight consolidator. The move is in effect through the first half of January. Other ocean carriers generally offer 10 days of free time.


A US-based agent for the consolidator said that the reduction in free time increases the risk that shippers will have to pay detention charges on a container. Some shippers have negotiated free time of up to 15 days, the source said.

“Most big retailers need 10 days out free,” the agent said.


James Caradonna, vice president at MCL-Multi Container Line, told the Journal of Commerce that the transit around the African cape means that it will take longer to return empty containers to Asia, setting the stage for further delays due to equipment imbalances.


MSC “foresees equipment shortages in light of the extended transits stemming from the issues in the Red Sea,” Caradonna said. “The fact that they are a huge player on the Asia-Europe trade means they will likely encounter container shortages in Asia at some point in the coming month.”


Cosco, meanwhile, will offer moves to the US East Coast from Chinese load ports via intermodal service from the West Coast, according to a notice from the company, which said it is looking to price the service at $7,600 per FEU.


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Overcapacity, larger ships mean challenges for carriers, pain for shippers

It is an irony of container shipping, well established over the course of decades, that actions available to carriers to protect their profitability almost always accrue to the disadvantage of their customers. And yet carriers take the action anyway.


It’s looking like that will be no different in 2024.


The year 2023 completed the extreme up and down arc of most metrics in this market — but not all. Rates, carrier profits and port congestion all normalized. “Vessels and cargo arriving, departing and shifting around the ports of [Los Angeles and Long Beach] continue to move normally with no labor delays,” Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, said on Dec. 9.


That’s a far cry from two years ago when over 100 container ships waited outside the ports for a berth and trans-Pacific spot rates were over $10,000 per FEU.


But even with ports clear of congestion, service reliability remains an outlier, not having reverted to pre-COVID levels. And because of overcapacity and carriers’ aggressive response, it will likely not return to normal levels in 2024. That will put pressure on those shippers who were hoping to return to the days of low-cost leaner inventories, especially amid higher interest rates, based on supply chains premised on predictable ocean transit times.


Unfortunately for shippers, that is nowhere in the picture. Global container ship scheduled reliability stood at 64.4% in October, up from 51.8% a year earlier and approximately 35% in 2021. But the October figure was still 15 percentage points below 2019 levels, and with no sign of improvement since May, according to Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis.


New vessels worsen overcapacity 


To manage the impact of overcapacity, now a reality for the next two to five years depending on who you ask, carriers are pulling out all the stops to absorb capacity. They have many tools at their disposal, whether it’s blank sailings, spontaneously adding port calls, further slow steaming, laying up ships or taking longer routes. While all that will combine to help carriers weather a rough patch of unfavorable supply-demand economics, it undermines schedule integrity and any semblance of service reliability.


“These oversupplied conditions are expected to persist for the next three to four years, primarily driven by the influx of newly ordered vessels entering the market,” said Christian Sur, executive vice president of Unique Logistics.


The pain doesn’t end there. As new and larger ships hit the water, the trend is toward larger tonnage being deployed on key trade lanes. Several sources have commented to the Journal of Commerce on the growing evidence of mega-ship concentration at the larger ports.


“Larger container ships and liner network optimization will accelerate concentration of cargo on to fewer ships calling gateway ports,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.


“We expect the frequency of larger container vessel calls to continue to increase as shipping lines work to decrease their carbon intensity,” said Capt. Allan Gray, president and CEO of the Halifax Port Authority. “The larger, newer vessels are more efficient, which means carbon intensity per container is lower.”


Those ships drive down CO2 per container and help carriers achieve more favorable treatment under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Carbon Intensity Index (CII) efficiency rules, while positively impacting shippers’ Scope 3 emissions. For shippers, it still means what big ships have always meant: benefits that roll up more to the carrier than to themselves.


The reality of larger ships 


Big ships mean longer port calls, surges at ports, more time needed to get containers unloaded and made available to consignees, more cargo concentrated on fewer ships, and fewer port calls. That transfers the pressure to ports and port ecosystems to effectively manage regular surges.


“Larger ships generally mean higher box exchanges,” said Dean Davidson, head of maritime advisory at Infrata. “Loaded Asian imports will remain the dominant activity at major US and Canadian ports and pressure will remain on these gateways to get the containers moved onto the next leg of the supply chain, whether its trucking, rail, transloading or onward distribution.”


The risks are further compounded by the potential clash of pared-back capacity set against the possibility of a surprise acceleration in cargo growth, which is rarely, if ever, predicted. Also hovering is the ever-present potential for another unpleasant shock, whether from geopolitics, severe weather, a public health crisis, a cyberattack or some other menace yet to be identified.


“Despite the unprecedented level of turmoil experienced in overcoming challenges over the past several years, it is only the warning shot for what is to be the most industrywide disruptions still to come,” said Cosco Shipping Lines Executive Vice President Paul Nazzaro.

This all rolls up to an environment of heightened risk for shippers as 2024 begins.


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Prince Rupert to build large export transload facility to balance cargo mix

The Port of Prince Rupert said Thursday it has begun construction of a rail-to-container transloading facility that will significantly increase the Western Canadian port’s capacity to export agricultural, forestry and resin products while achieving a better import-export mix.


The project will consist of a 108-acre greenfield development on Ridley Island and is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of 2026. Ray-Mont Logistics will develop and operate the facility, which will provide transloading capacity for 400,000 TEUs a year.


Ray-Mont currently operates a transloading facility on a temporary Ridley Island location.


The temporary facility will transition to the permanent Ridley Island Export Logistics Project (RIELP), which will provide significantly more transload capacity, said Brian Friesen, vice president of trade development at the Price Rupert Port Authority.


“It will be enormous in size and scale — 10 times the size of the temporary one,” Friesen told the Journal of Commerce Thursday.


The C$750 million project will help import-heavy Prince Rupert establish a more balanced import-export flow, Friesen said. The import-export ratio has varied over time. Ten years ago, imports outnumbered exports two to one. In pre-pandemic 2019, exports accounted for 25 to 30% of the port’s total container volume. This year, exports are in the low-30% range.


“So we still have a long way to go,” Friesen said.


The project will include Prince Rupert developing a road-rail utility corridor that will connect the new transload facility with Fairview Container Terminal, giving unit trains 10,000 feet in length direct access to the site from the Canadian National Railway network. The connector corridor ensures that all product movements will be within the port authority’s jurisdiction, the port said in a statement.


The total capital investment of C$750 million is being provided by the port, Ray-Mont Logistics, CN, the Canadian federal government and the government of British Columbia. Canada’s National Transportation Corridor Fund is providing C$64.8 million and the province’s Stronger BC program is providing C$25 million toward the project, according to the statement.


Prince Rupert serves Canadian, US markets


Prince Rupert, with its CN intermodal connections to eastern Canada and to the US market through Chicago, is a gateway for Asian imports. The port seeks to grow as an export gateway for Canadian and US cargo. A more robust two-way trade will generate increased container volumes and assist in the shipment of export loads and repositioning of empty containers along the CN network, Friesen said.


“The project’s large scale, unit train capabilities, access to available empty containers and proximity and integration into container terminal operations make it a unique model that promises the ability to deliver significant new service offerings to exporters that will greatly improve the quality, cost and reliability of container supply chains,” the port authority said.


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Rail dwells rising along West Coast amid shortage of available rail cars

A shortage of rail cars is causing rail container dwells to rise at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and in the Pacific Northwest, with operators unable to move inbound rail boxes off their marine terminals in a timely manner. While rail dwells have been slowly increasing since June, the problem worsened in September, sources say.


And a modest increase in pre-Golden Week import volumes last month contributed to the extended dwells, they said.


“We had some inventory buildup the last two to three weeks,” Alan McCorkle, CEO of Yusen Terminals in Los Angeles, told the Journal of Commerce Thursday. “(The railroads) are not positioning enough bare tables here.”


SSA Marine, which operates three terminals in Long Beach, said rail containers are dwelling longer on the docks because it doesn’t have enough rail cars to move the inbound loads to the US interior.


“There is a rail car shortage,” Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, told the Journal of Commerce. 


Despite the rising dwells, the congestion has not caused any disruption due to the manageable level of imports, even with the modest bump leading up to China’s Oct. 1-7 Golden Week and especially compared to the record volumes and vessel queues during the height of the pandemic.


“We’re not as busy, so there hasn’t been a big impact,” DeNike said.


Noel Hacegaba, deputy executive director and COO at the Port of Long Beach, said the current peak season volumes are likely contributing to the discrepancy between modestly increasing import volumes and weak export volumes, which is causing an equipment imbalance.


“The uptick in inbound cargo could be triggering rail equipment imbalances,” he said. “This is not across the board, but equipment balances are affecting some terminals more than others.”


Conditions expected to improve soon 


BNSF Railway said it is responding to the problem and that conditions should improve quickly.


“We experienced an increase in freight in transit in the San Pedro Bay Ports and responded quickly by increasing our international intermodal equipment fleet by 8% to meet the demand and our customers’ needs,” the railway said in a statement. “We are well-positioned to handle the business across our network with the additional assets as well as with capacity.”


Yusen is starting to see a difference this week. “It’s starting to clear up a little,” McCorkle said.


The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA) has not yet released figures on September rail dwell times for Los Angeles-Long Beach. Dwells in August were 4.45 days, up from 4.14 days in July and 4 days in June. Just over 25% of the rail containers in August remained on terminal for five days or longer, up from 23% in June.


NWSA also seeing rail backups 


The shortage of rail cars is also an issue in the Pacific Northwest. “Rail car availability is currently a serious concern due to the low volume of cars heading westbound to balance the high volume going eastbound,” Hapag-Lloyd said in a Sept. 29 customer advisory about the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.


The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) said in a statement to the Journal of Commerce that the two ports have seen an increase in container volumes over the past several weeks, and that it has caused “temporary congestion for intermodal cargo at some of our terminals.” It said the railroads will be sending in extra cars to alleviate the backlog.


“Our operations team has been working closely with the Class I railroads and we’re pleased that both have responded with additional support and are sending extra equipment,” the NWSA said. “We expect the terminals to recover fully within a few weeks.”


The delays appear to be highest at Tacoma-area terminals, according to the advisory, which said Husky Terminal is seeing import dwells of just over seven days due to the railcar imbalance. The neighboring Washington United Terminal is seeing delays of three to seven days, while Seattle’s T18 terminal is experiencing one- to three-day dwells.


Union Pacific, which runs the Tacoma South Intermodal Terminal, did not respond to a request for comment.


While international import and export container volumes are down a combined 25.6% as of August on a year-to-date basis relative to 2022, a logistics manager who asked not to be identified said there had been some rush to bring in goods ahead of the Golden Week holiday. The source said her company’s roughly 250,000 square feet of transload space is at capacity as shippers elect to move goods via dry-van trailer.


“Tacoma transloads are full,” the source said. “Maybe it’s issues at the Panama Canal, maybe people need to bring in time-sensitive goods right now.”


The Pacific Northwest is about to see ocean carrier capacity drop further in the coming weeks, so shippers could be trying to get ahead of that. THE Alliance is suspending its PN3 service to Seattle-Tacoma indefinitely following the last sailing from Asia Oct. 8.

THE Alliance said the lack of demand was behind the need for the service cut. Along with THE Alliance, Ocean Alliance’s OPNW-Dahlia service is running fortnightly through October.


But the logistics manager said the service cuts set up a vicious cycle where shippers decide to use other ports due to the lack of reliable and consistent ocean service. With the service cuts and schedule irregularity, the source said shippers are having problems returning empty containers. As fewer ships are able to take out empties, the manager said truckers sometimes face two- to four-hour turn times, including time in the queue outside the gates, and vessel cutoffs for exports have occasionally been missed.


“They need to fix the gates, fix the queues and extend some hours,” the source said. “We need to bring consistency back to this gateway so it doesn’t lose more cargo to other ports.”


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More trans-Pac service cuts on tap for October as carriers seek to buoy rates

THE Alliance’s suspension of a trans-Pacific service next month adds to the raft of canceled sailings and other service changes that ocean carriers have planned now through well into October as they attempt to better balance ship supply with import demand.


Hapag-Lloyd on Wednesday said the Pacific Northwest 3 (PN3) service it operates under its alliance agreement with Ocean Network Express, Yang Ming and HMM will be suspended following an Oct. 8 sailing from Hong Kong due to the “present market situation.” In place of the PN3 service, the carrier said its PN2 service would add calls to the Asian ports served by the PN3.


THE Alliance has already announced a series of service changes in September. Over the next three weeks, it plans to blank 12 sailings – two to the Pacific Northwest, five to Southern California and four to the US East Coast – accounting for nominal capacity of 119,000 TEUs.


The 2M Alliance partners Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) and Maersk also announced this month that 11 trans-Pacific voyages scheduled between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9 will be blanked, accounting for 108,000 TEUs in nominal capacity. Those include four services to Southern California ports, six to the US East Coast and one to the Gulf Coast.


In addition, schedules from carriers of the Ocean Alliance show changes to sailing frequency or outright cancellations on 17 services through the end of October with nominal capacity of 146,000 TEUs. Cosco Shipping and Orient Overseas Container Line will offer fortnightly, in place of weekly, sailings on their 5,800-TEU Dahlia service to the Pacific Northwest through October. Evergreen Marine will also offer biweekly sailings on its 12,000-TEU Southwest Express Service to Los Angeles through October in place of weekly service.


Blankings will ‘get worse’ 


With Asian imports to the US down 20% year-to-date, the trans-Pacific is bearing the brunt of service cuts. Maritime consultancy Drewry’s canceled sailings tracker indicates that the trans-Pacific will account for 59 of 104 canceled sailings worldwide originally scheduled between mid-September and the end of October.



Drewry added that with service cuts and schedule changes coming fast, “shippers and (beneficial cargo owners) are advised to remain attentive, as these developments could potentially result in schedule disruption and delays in cargo movements.”


An import manager who oversees 10,000 FEUs in Asian imports, primarily through West Coast ports, told the Journal of Commerce she is seeing about 5% of her inbound volumes get rolled to later sailings due to the service changes. The source, who did not want to be identified, expects the increase in blank sailings through October will mean that shippers who have booked cargo for sailings that month will likely face more delays as capacity tightens.


“Some of the carriers are blanking a lot,” she said. “The second half of September is tough, but the first half of October is going to be a mess. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”


James Caradonna, vice president at MCL-Multi Container Line, told the Journal of Commerce that the capacity cuts – most of which are in response to China’s Golden Week holiday – have managed to stem further slides in spot freight rates in the near term, while keeping ships full.


While spot rates are very fluid, he said current market levels of $1,600 to $1,900 per FEU to the US West Coast at least allow the carriers to break even, particularly as fuel costs begin to rise.


“Those rates are not bad in a historical context,” Caradonna said. “I think many carriers would be okay with having rates in that range.”



He estimates that vessel utilization to the Southern California ports is over 90%, with some cargo being rolled to the next available voyage, as schedule changes and blank sailings prompt shippers to go with the fastest and highest-capacity ocean services available. In contrast, load factors on ships to the Pacific Northwest are around 80% as cargo flow at Canadian ports returns to normal following labor unrest in July.


“Load factors to Southern California have not been terrible,” Caradonna said. “Capacity has been more constant to the Pacific Southwest than the Pacific Northwest.”


Vessels going to the US East Coast are also likely seeing utilization around 80% or sometimes lower, according to Caradonna. He said the lower usage reflects a shift of some import cargo back to the West Coast after the ratification of the longshore labor contract and concerns about delays at the Panama Canal. Spot rates to the US East Coast have fallen harder than those to the West Coast, and now hover around $2,300 to $2,500 per FEU.


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‘Rushed’ sourcing shift out of China prompts some reconsideration

SINGAPORE — “China plus-one,” “friend-shoring” and “reshoring” may be catchphrases of the day, with the underlying trends they describe being well-supported by macro-level trade data. But as sourcing shifts out of China due to risk mitigation and other factors, one thing is increasingly apparent: Moving production out of China is costly, even to the point of leading some to reconsider it.


The reality is that for any number of product categories, relocating sourcing brings with it less efficient logistics, occasional lower quality, and overall higher costs at a time when cost control is rapidly assuming a higher priority for shippers.


That is why some executives with long experience in Asia logistics believe that if factors like risk mitigation were to recede as an urgent supply chain priority — for example, if there were to be a de-escalation of geopolitical tensions — China could, at least in the short term, recapture lost manufacturing given the well-established efficiency and quality of its overall system.


“The short-term rush out of China has in some cases been too rushed and infrastructure/cost and capabilities were not ready to absorb the business from China and thus if there were immediate changes in China; some of that would likely come back as an interim step,” said a senior Asia-based forwarding executive.


However, “two to three years more of fixing the bugs in the new countries will make that reversal much less likely,” he added, reflecting a view that diversification of supply firmly remains a long-term trend.


Still, it’s not happening without bumps in the road. According to anecdotes shared with the Journal of Commerce by a freight forwarder, such frustrations led a white goods manufacturer who had a pre-COVID sourcing split of roughly 40% Thailand, 33% Vietnam and 17% China to “actually (go) back to China for a significant amount of sourcing.”


Three specific reasons were cited: a more dependable supply chain for raw materials and parts, less tangled transportation solutions out of Asia, and sourcing capacity – especially following the surge in demand during the pandemic.


Issues in Vietnam led a footwear and apparel maker to acknowledge the pain associated with transitioning from a 57% China/29% Vietnam split to 45% China/35% Vietnam today. “Ocean capacity is a major issue,” for the shipper, the forwarder said.


“From a transportation and lead time angle, [the company was] much better off in Xiamen, which can boast over five times [the] direct call capacity than Haiphong.”


A seller of artificial Christmas trees, meanwhile, was sourcing 93% of its product from China as of 2019, but as of 2023 is sourcing 58% from China and 41% from Cambodia. However, the forwarder said, “they do not see a further shift away from China as they also cited capacity and supply chain efficiencies from China were still far superior than those in Cambodia.”


“Not surprisingly, priority [purchase orders] … are still coming from China as they do not have enough confidence that the factory, infrastructure or transportation options from Cambodia can deliver consistently,” the forwarder source added. “Also worth noting that as a result of the shift, this particular importer has had to push up its shipping program for Christmas trees, and rather significantly at that.”


Sourcing shift comes with new costs 


study prepared for the annual US Federal Reserve Jackson Hole Symposium held from Aug. 24-26 found that moving production out of China brought additional cost.


“Decreases in product-level import shares from China are associated with rising unit values for imports from Vietnam and Mexico, which likely reflects rising costs of production in these locations,” the study concluded. “This ongoing reallocation of global supply chain activity comes attached with costs that need to be monitored and assessed more rigorously.”


Part of the additional cost stems from less-efficient logistics, including fewer direct connections that result in more frequent transshipments, as well as chronically congested terminals and inland connectors. Sources say companies buying from factories are likely to experience more problems than large industrial companies that make a long-term commitment to a new market by establishing their own production and associated supply chains.


Part of the underlying issue is that transportation infrastructure is well known to be far less developed throughout Southeast Asia, even if it’s expanding rapidly across the region. According to maritime consultancy Drewry, as of 2022, 76 container terminals in China were able to handle ships greater than 14,000 TEUs, while there were only 31 across south and southeast Asia. China is the only country in the world to have built significant container port capacity ahead of demand, while in other developing countries new terminals fill up almost immediately after they open.


One example of divergent levels of efficiency is berth productivity, measuring how quickly terminals load and offload ships. China and Singapore have the most productive ports in the region, with ports in other countries, including the Philippines, Myanmar and Bangladesh generating substantially lower productivity, contributing to vessel delays and larger supply chain disruption, according to Port Performance data from S&P Global, parent company of the Journal of Commerce.


“Building redundancy into supply chains isn’t costless,” economist Marc Levinson, author of The Box and a scheduled TPM24 speaker, told the Journal of Commerce. “If a manufacturer makes a product in two or three countries rather than in one location, it may lose economies of scale, and its supply chain logistics get more complicated.”

Western Canada port backlog to take weeks to clear: Canadian National

Canadian National Railway said it would take up to eight weeks to clear the cargo backlog from the 14 days of strike action at Western Canadian ports amid a weaker-than-expected peak season, while signaling some confidence that the longshore disruption is over as union members vote on the tentative deal reached last week.


“We are pleased to see an end to the work stoppage and we’re working hard to get those supply chains back in sync,” CN CEO Tracy Robinson said Tuesday during a second-quarter earnings call. “We expect to move most of the volumes that didn’t move during the first two weeks of July over the coming weeks.”


The result of the ratification vote by the rank and file of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada isn’t expected to be released until Saturday at the earliest, according to two people close to negotiations. The last three weeks have been marked by the whiplash of a 13-day strike, a tentative deal rejected by a union caucus, a one-day wildcat strike, a federal labor board ruling the one-day strike illegal, the union issuing and then retracting a strike notice for last weekend, and finally union leadership accepting terms of the new contract.


Those terms have not been publicly disclosed.


Beyond the strike impact, Doug MacDonald, chief marketing officer at CN, said on the call the environment for intermodal volumes, both domestic and international, will stay challenging. Pricing for domestic rail through the shipment of 53-foot containers on short-haul lanes “will be under pressure” due to increased truck availability, he added.


MacDonald was the latest transportation executive in recent weeks to downplay the possibility of any meaningful peak season, saying the railroad downgraded its outlook for intermodal volume growth due to shippers saying they’re expecting a weaker-than-expected second half. CN shipments via international containers and 53-foot containers fell 11% year over year in the three months ended June 30, pulling down intermodal revenue 26% to C$983 million (US$743,600).


“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen in [the 2024 first quarter] and beyond,” MacDonald said, answering an investor question on whether there would be a volume rebound early next year. “But what we are doing is we’re kind of forecasting a normal year beyond that, and that’s as far as we’ve gone based on what the customers have told us.”


The timing and health of an intermodal volume rebound on CN’s network hinges on the North American consumer, Robinson said during the earnings call, during which the Class I railroad reported net income of C$1.17 billion for the second quarter, down 12% from the same period in 2022. While CN doesn’t expect a significant restocking of retail inventories ahead of the winter holidays, Robinson said “we are expecting to see some strength start to grow and return to more normalized level, say next year.”


Similar to CN, forwarder Kuehne + Nagel downplayed the chances of a traditional peak season for ocean markets, with CEO Stefan Paul telling investors Tuesday that at best “there will be a slight uptick in the fourth quarter.” Last week, Matson Navigation CEO Matt Cox said he sees a “muted peak season” for the trans-Pacific, according to the company’s preliminary earnings statement.


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Western Canada port strike ends after sides reach deal on tentative four-year contract: source

The 13-day longshore strike that hit the Western Canadian ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert has ended after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada and waterfront employers reached a deal on a tentative four-year contract, a source close to the matter told the Journal of Commerce Thursday.

The end of the strikes comes less than two days after Canada’s Minister of Labour ordered the federal mediator overseeing negotiations between the union and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association to provide recommendations for a settlement.

An official at BCMEA confirmed the deal and the end of the strike, which began July 1.

The strike caused multiple ships to divert from Western Canada to Seattle and Tacoma, while creating a vessel backlog off Vancouver and Prince Rupert. There were 14 container ships at anchor or offshore at the Port of Vancouver Wednesday, according to the port’s website.

US imports building toward August peak, but labor concerns weigh: retailers

US containerized imports are expected to build toward an August peak and in November will likely record the first year-over-year increase since June 2022, a major retail group said Friday. And while that is cause for optimism, the National Retail Federation (NRF) noted that labor strike at Western Canadian ports and involving UPS and the Teamsters could still snarl US supply chains this summer.


“We were relieved that labor and management at West Coast ports reached a tentative agreement last month but that doesn’t mean supply chain disruptions are over,” Jonathan Gold, NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in the group’s monthly Global Port Tracker (GPT), compiled with Hackett Associates.


Gold said the ongoing longshore strike at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert should not have a “major impact” in the US but could still affect some retailers who move merchandise through Western Canada. And a possible strike by the Teamsters against UPS could crimp the ability to move goods from US ports to stores, he said.


“We urge all parties in both negotiations to get back to the table and continue efforts to reach a final deal without engaging in disruptive activity,” Gold said. “Seamless supply chains are critical for retailers as we head into the peak shipping season for the winter holidays.”


Diminished prospects for recession


According to the GPT, the prospects for a recession in the second half of the year are dimming and imports should increase as consumer demand ticks up and retailers reduce the inventory overhang that has kept warehouses full over the past year.


Consumer demand is stable, and consumers have continued to spend while retailers and wholesalers have reduced their inventories, Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, said in the GPT.


US imports grew at record or near-record monthly levels in 2021 through the summer of 2022 before growth stopped abruptly in the fall of 2022. GPT is forecasting that monthly year-on-year declines in imports will diminish over the coming months, with imports showing positive growth in November, which would be the first such reading in 18 months.


Retailers forecast that July imports will show a year-on-year decline of 11%, with August down 10.1%, September 3.4% and October 1.8%. Expected imports of 1.88 million TEUs in November would be up 5.9% from November 2022.


The GPT surveys imports at 12 major US ports on the West, East and Gulf coasts. It does not include imports through Vancouver and Prince Rupert, but NRF noted Friday the Western Canadian ports handled over 185,000 TEUs in May, approximately 9% of combined US-Canadian containerized imports at the ports covered by the GPT.


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