China moving containers faster

Containers are now moving in and out of China at record speeds as shippers desperately source capacity, but port congestion in Europe and the US continues to slow the return of boxes to Asia and is stymying the recovery of global ocean supply chains.

China moving containers faster

According to a joint report published in January by logistics technology company Container xChange and research organisation Fraunhofer–CML, as the rush to get exports to buyers soared last year, the average median time containers spent in Chinese depots dropped to just five days, down from 61 days in 2020.

China was not alone among leading exporters in seeing rapid box turnarounds last year. Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia recorded average median times that containers spent in depots of nine, 11, 16 and 19 days, respectively.

“Once containers reach Asia, they are being redeployed at record speeds. However, the mismatch between supply and demand at many origin ports, including in China, means it is sometimes hard

for US and European importers to secure boxes unless they have planned ahead, or are working losely with their box supplier, forwarder or container line, to ensure they have both a vessel slot and a container available in advance,” commented Dr Johannes Schlingmeier, co-founder and CEO of container xChange.

Congestion in many destination ports

By contrast, severe congestion in many destination ports saw container dwell times at depots reach near-record levels in 2021. The worst performing countries in terms of the average median time containers spent in depots last year were the US and the UK which suffered average dwell times of 50 and 51 days, respectively.

The next worst performers were South Africa (47 days), UAE (40 days), Pakistan (31 days) and Germany (25 days). Schlingmeier added: “Container shipping rates have bounced back after a slight downturn in the fourth quarter with the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) breaking through the 5,000 mark

at the end of December. Port congestion is a major factor. Jefferies Equity Research found that in November last year some 36.2 percent of boxship capacity was at port. Until that congestion is cleared, we’ll continue to have major imbalances in the supply and demand of both vessel capacity and containers. As the Omicron variant brings more disruption, with Chinese New Year around the corner and some ports including Ningbo already facing lockdowns, we are expecting a volatile start to the year for ocean freight logistics.”

The study found that in the US, the second-worst performer in terms of the average median time containers spent in depots in 2021, performance varied hugely by port. Across the country, average dwell times were 50 days last year (2021), down from 66 days in 2020. New York recorded 61 days of container idle time followed by Houston (59 days) and Savannah (56 days). The ports of LA and LB, on average recorded 40 to 42 days of container idle time.