26/10/2021 – Challenges Of Our Times / Shipping / Containers / Supply Chain / Global

A CRISIS CONTAINED? The global shortage of shipping containers

Global supply chains have been shaken by a shortage of shipping containers, particularly since the onset of the global pandemic. Jonathan Moss, Head of Marine and Trade at legal and business services provider DWF comments on how the shipping container crisis is affecting companies, consumers and insurers.

The supply chain has faced major disruption globally due to the shortage of shipping containers, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. With factories closing and transportation coming to a halt, many empty containers have been left at ports, and the amount of vessels at sea dramatically reduced. Further tighter restrictions, and minimal staff, together with a backlog of containers, have caused catastrophic problems for the shipping industry.

Significant delays lead freight costs to soar 


Whilst shipping containers were being exported from China, as the country recovered from the initial effects of the pandemic only a relatively small proportion arrived at their rightful destinations owing to strict EU and US lockdown procedures. These caused significant delays for shipments, adding weeks and sometimes months to the cargo delivery time as ports were closed or operated with a skeleton workforce. 

Serious delays have meant freight companies paying over the odds to receive shipping containers quicker than their competitors. Freight costs have soared from early 2021 to now, and the cost of shipping cargo from China to Europe has quadrupled.

Consumer shopping has also been impacted. The usual steady supply of goods has been interrupted for many businesses, as vessels wait to load cargo at overcrowded ports – particularly in China and the US. 

Many recently built container vessels are exceptionally large, limiting the ports they can berth at. If more medium-sized vessels were constructed, there would be a greater opportunity for ships to berth, avoiding congestion and allowing ships to navigate more effectively. With the surge in online sales, however, there is an increasing need for very large ships to maintain this influx in cargo.

A perfect storm

Marine Insurers will feel the pain with notifications across various insurance lines as vessels are delayed; and cargo is undelivered, contaminated and lost – with consequential losses and business interruption losses claimed along the way. 

The effects are, however, far more wide-reaching for consumers, who are facing a rise in the cost of everyday essentials. Shipping delays are a significant disruption for containers – and two blockages in the Suez Canal, combined with the unprecedented effects of the pandemic, have created a perfect storm. Container imbalance together with a shortage of containers is hurting global trade. Containers are building up in some ports and unavailable in others – causing bottlenecks, adversely affecting buying patterns and driving up prices in the shops.

No quick fix

Arguably, there is no quick resolution for the container crisis. It will take time before supply chains can be back on track globally. While there are suggestions that the shipping industry cannot keep up with global demand, improvements are being made. Key players in the supply chain are discovering ways the operation of vessels can become more resilient to unexpected change, including by the adoption of organisational changes, enhanced logistics operations and blockchain technology for smart contracts, approvals and customs clearances.

About DWF

DWF is a global provider of integrated legal and business services provided through its three offerings of Legal Advisory, Mindcrest and Connected Services. It has approximately 4,000 people and offices and associations worldwide. The company became the first Main Market Premium Listed legal business on the London Stock Exchange in 2019. DWF recorded net revenue of £338 million in the 2020–2021 financial year.


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