Blank sailings and omissions to continue as congestion grows in US eastern ports


Experts anticipate blank sailings and omissions across the US to continue through the first quarter of 2021 as congestion continues.

The well-documented soaring numbers of vessels waiting outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is close to reaching 100 at anchor, with vessel waiting time up to 30 days.

Experts at freight forwarders Flexport reported congestion has “definitely spread” to the East Coast of the US – with SC Ports’ Charleston Terminal, Georgia’s Port of Savannah, and Port Houston all experiencing congestion.

Vessels are waiting up to four days before docking at Charleston, with the situation “likely to get worse” in the coming weeks whilst Savannah remains largely unavailable for shippers, Flavia Buso, Trade Manager Transatlantic Westbound for Flexport, commented during a Flexport trade update on 7 December.

Port Houston is also experiencing congestion with vessel bunching, with an eight-day vessel waiting time to be added to total transit times, Buso noted.

The overall congestion continues to worsen as a measly third – just 33.2% – of vessels are arriving on time, with 7.3 day average delay for late vessel arrivals.

Alternative ports are experiencing lesser but still concerning levels of container backlogs: including Seattle, Tacoma, Washington and Vancouver.

Terminals at Seattle, Tacoma, and Washington have introduced measures to mitigate container backlogs at their terminals, introducing an ageing container dwell feel to clear cargo from its facilities.

Aside from CMA CGM’s incentivised scheme to expedite container collection, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have delayed implementing its on container dwell fee to 13 December following a combined 37% decline in ageing cargo on the docks.

Buso noted that the long-term dwell fee is positively impacting congestion in terminals on the dry side of operations.

However on the marine side of operations, levels continue to look bleak, with blank sailings and omissions predicted to continue well into next year.

“Looking at the count of vessels anchored, we are close to hitting 100, which has been increasing over the past weeks. We have definitely achieved steps forward in yard congestion at Los Angeles and Long Beach, with shippers taking signals the port sent to take ahold of long-dwelling containers,” Buso said.

“It will probably take several weeks if not months to start to feel the impact in how vessels can dock at the ports and how fast we can get ahold of containers.”

In October MSC announced that it will be temporarily omitting the Port of Seattle from its Eagle service due to increased waiting time for vessel berthing brought on by the ongoing congestion crisis.

In November, Shipping liner Hapag-Lloyd announced it will be omitting the Port of Savannah from its East Coast 2 Loop (EC2) service over the holiday season.

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