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Congestion at North American terminals as Covid takes its toll

Carriers are reporting a number of pinch-points at US and Canadian ports as container volumes have increased to in excess of pre-pandemic levels while inland infrastructure has suffered due to a lack of staff and terminal congestion.

Maersk has advised its customers that, “The peak season is being defined by a number of volume-related challenges and we encourage customers to add more buffer to supply chain schedules to allow for potential disruptions and delays.”

The lines are also experiencing chassis shortages as full import containers are being stored on the units at the container yards. The 2M alliance lines recommend that shippers return empty containers and their chassis as quickly as possible to “free up chassis and improve operational velocity in terminals and storage yards.”

In addition a shortage of labour means that trucking capability as well as warehousing and distribution capacity have been compromised as restrictions on working, due to the pandemic, have restricted staff numbers.

The line added, “Some truckers have parked their trucks and returned to their home country – and for our Longshore labour – we are seeing more casuals.”

Rail services have also been disrupted, particularly in Canada where a Canadian National train derailed causing disruption for three days for eastbound volumes from Vancouver.

That has added to the congestion caused by strong import container volumes to Vancouver and Prince Rupert which has slowed has seen congestion at the port’s container yards, “often exceeding infrastructure limits,” said Maersk, slowing throughput in the process.

The carrier added, “We opted to push vessel schedules by one week (instead of having the ships anchor for a week outside the ports).”

In addition the 2M Alliance has reinstated some blanked sailings to cope with the increased cargo levels, following the request from Chinese authorities to curb rate increases and offer more capacity on the trades, which has seen rates reach historic highs.

In a customer notice the Danish and Swiss-based carrier alliance advised that it would reinstate North America bound services, that had originally been blanked in the second quarter as a result of decreased demand during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US.

The 2M alliance’s TP8 and TP11 will be reinstated, however, the lines say that during the “Golden Week holiday, we are planning fewer blank sailings than previous years.”

This announcement comes after last week’s intervention from China’s Ministry of Transport which asked lines to curb rate increases and restore capacity. Following that request, Dutch consultancy Dynaliners reported that Chinese carrier COSCO had cancelled its planned general rate increase on 15 September.

Ocean Alliance, of which COSCO is a member, also reinstated sailings. “The Ocean Alliance (CMA CGM, CoscoSL/OOCL and Evergreen) will, in October, cancel two additional Transpacific sailings. However, it will still carry out six Transpacific departures that were previously dropped, so that effectively it will offer four sailings more than originally planned that month.”

THE Alliance has said it has not reinstated any sailings to date.

Rate levels on the Transpacific remain at high levels according to the FBX01 index which stands at US$3,835/FEU today, up from US$3,694/FEU a week ago.

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