Scheduling chaos puts carriers under pressure from shippers

By Mike Wackett 16/01/2024

Carriers are coming under some pressure from their major VIP shippers to announce temporary network changes, so that their supply chains can be adjusted to match.

Amid the scheduling chaos caused by diversions and delays, carriers continue to issue blank sailing announcements for Asian export loaders, even though the backhaul sailings of the voided ships will be weeks late.

And shippers are complaining that carriers are spending most of their time implementing surcharges and rate hikes, instead of announcing arrival updates.

“The information flow from some carriers is pretty poor at the best of times, but with the Suez Canal diversions it has sunk to new levels,” a director of a UK-based NVOCC told The Loadstar.D

“We are getting very different arrival times from different carriers that have loaded on the same vessel, and nobody seems to have a clue what the plans are – one line is telling me one thing and another says something quite different,” he said.

He also complained about the poor information on carrier websites: “There are a few that are quite good in showing regular updates of ETAs at first port of discharge, but then there are several others so out of date that you wouldn’t even know that there was a problem in the Red Sea!”

And the Red Sea crisis has put a spanner in the works of the network enhancements of THE Alliance and Ocean Alliance vessel-sharing groups planned for April, while the soon to be defunct 2M Alliance members, MSC and Maersk, have not announced any interim changes to schedules and are already operating loops with vessels supplied by only one partner.

Meanwhile, almost two months since ro-ro vessel Galaxy Leader was seized by Iran-backed Houthi militants off the coast of Yemen, the risk for ships transiting the Red Sea has escalated.

Yesterday a bulk carrier was hit by a ballistic missile in the Gulf of Aden, a response by the Houthis to targeted attacks by the US and UK on military sites in Yemen.

The US military Central Command said the US-owned Gibraltar Eagle had reported “no injuries or significant damage” and was “continuing its journey”. Nevertheless, it can only be a matter of time before a ship is severely damaged by a missile that gets through the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian defence cordon.

It follows that the majority of containerships serving Asia-North Europe, the Mediterranean and all-water transpacific strings to the US east coast will continue to divert around the Cape of Good Hope, requiring carriers to deploy significant additional tonnage.

Re-routing Asia-Europe loops adds around 10 days to North Europe headhaul voyages and 13 days to the Mediterranean, with roundtrip transits extended by some 20 and 26 days respectively.

It is estimated that carriers will need to inject some 70 extra vessels into their networks to maintain their proforma weekly services if, as looks increasingly likely, their loops are obliged to omit the Suez Canal for some time.