One of the big hassles in container shipping right now is the unfair treatment of drayage drivers. They are often forced to wait because of inadequate capacity at ports. And this is directly traceable to the advent of large ships, which take longer to unload and which result in large numbers of empty containers cluttering up ports. When there are too many containers, the port operations are delayed and cannot be efficient, so often the terminals close their doors to returning containers. They are usually empty.
So the drivers are stuck with them. Or the warehouses and distribution centers wait to return them till they can get in. The time windows for return are not coordinated across the supply chain players, so it’s kind of random whether they can get them in.
Then we compound it with the fact that it’s not that useful for the ocean carrier to pick them up for return to an exporting location. It’s almost easier to build a new one in China, say for the next load. Also, an empty container takes up a slot on the ship that could be used for paying cargo. Remember that ocean routes are closed loops with pickups and deliveries along the way. Each stop presents a new version of a loading problem to be solved.
Yet many containers are owned by the ocean shipping lines. So they are responsible for them.
The FMC will look at whether the ocean carriers need to reimburse other supply chain participants for any delays suffered when they can’t return the containers on time. And the carriers have to be more diligent about picking up empties. That’s something the FMC should be able to influence. The carriers will squeal. But they have to start cleaning up their leftovers.
Port Authority of NY and NJ have announced a new container fee payable by ocean carriers. The fee will be levied when the outbound containers don’t exceed inbound containers by 110% in the same period. The port authority also plans to find additional space to store containers near the port, and already has identified 12 acres on the port.
It seems that these two measures are what works to reduce congestion. The same two kinds of measures were invoked at the Port of LA and Port of Long Beach to get ocean lines to start moving empties out. In California, though, the container fees were just threatened; they never were begun. that alone was enough for ocean carriers to start moving containers out.
Perhaps we have found a credible set of options to get container carriers to move those boxes.
There are now too many containers in the world. And they are cluttering up the ports and yards we need to move containers through. And they cause detention and demurrage charges, because lines won’t move them out of ports.
The global container pool is around 50 million TEU right now. According to Drewry, that is an excess of 6 million TEU. However, Drewry is not too concerned about the excess at present, feeling they can be absorbed if trade picks up. Interestingly, Drewry seems to think that the excess will be absorbed by ‘slower sailing’!
As economics tells us to expect, the price of second-hand containers is falling. However, some carriers, such as Evergreen, continue to order more. Most containers are built in China these days. Three Chinese firms, with state connections, are the primary sources. The problem is that empty used containers cost a lot to return to exporting destinations. They displace paying cargo, forcing ocean carriers to use space to carry them. And especially, with the cost of bunker fuel in the stratosphere, and the need to use very low sulfur fuel in some busy port areas, the transportation cost is high. Ocean carriers have to ‘bundle’ the cost of returns into the one-way cost of the loaded shipment. Either that, or they take a hit by moving the old containers back.
The Seatrade article by Gary Howard has nice graphs showing the average price of 40-foot used containers in Europe, and in China, provided by Container xChange. Again the question of where excess containers will be stored is raised. There haven’t been many answers to that one yet.