Maritime transport is the backbone of international trade. According to Statista, ships carry 80% of the world’s goods. Container ships account for around 60% of this mammoth figure, says a World Economic Forum study. Given the vital role of the shipping industry on global transport, the reliability of shipping is of paramount importance, especially after the worldwide disruption in shipping schedules caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poor Reliability of Shipping
As it is, the track record of container shipping lines is not particularly impressive because their reliability is only around 66%, which means that only two vessels in three arrive as scheduled. The pandemic has halved the figure; however, the abysmal performance should improve now. For the uninitiated, the poor performance of shipping lines is all the more surprising because, as per industry standards, the definition of timely delivery is plus or minus one day from the scheduled arrival at the port. Effectively, even if the ship arrives a day late, it is still counted as having arrived on schedule. Some of the most common causes of delays of cargo ships include:
The most important reason for schedule disruption is unfavorable weather. Severe weather events like hurricanes and storms can considerably slow the passage of cargo ships or even force them to take alternative and invariably longer routes. The loading and unloading of a vessel can also experience disruption in case of intense rainfall, snowfall, or high winds. In some cases, the disruption can delay the vessel’s departure, which can have a cascading effect on its ability to arrive on time at the subsequent ports of call.
Peak Season Port Congestion
At certain times of the year, the demand for transporting goods is much higher. The extra demand also causes the ocean freight rates online to peak. The goods take more time to load and unload at the port, and the ship spends more time at the berth. If a berth remains occupied for more time, other ships in the queue get delayed, with a serious ripple effect on the subsequent port calls. While there is no universal peak season globally, the period leading up to the holiday season in Europe and North America and the Chinese New Year typically creates pressure on port infrastructure.
Port Call Omissions
When a port is exceptionally congested, and cargo handling is slow, sometimes carriers decide not to berth at that port and proceed to the port next on its schedule. In the shipping industry parlance, it is known as port call omission. Such events can cause a huge disruption as the goods intended for the missed port are typically unloaded at the next port and transported back to the original destination using other modes of transport and resulting in delays.
While shipping lines always try to stick to the announced schedule, their poor track record is due to many reasons. In addition to the ones already described, some common reasons include canceled sailings due to insufficient cargo, labor unrest or shortage, and procedural delays in processing documents and cargo inspection by customs. Congestion at the transshipment point can also contribute to shipments getting delayed.