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Pearl River Delta jammed

The principle goods highway to the world’s consumers is jammed. In the wake of a Covid-19 outbreak at Yantian Port in eastern Shenzhen on May 25, vessels have backed up in the South China Sea, while others have sought alternatives in western Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Nansha to the south of Guangzhou. However, the Pearl River is now packed with anchored giant boxships waiting for berths to open up as the below enlargeable image taken by MarineTraffic at 4pm local time today clearly shows (green dots represent ships at anchor).

Liners are also increasingly taking the decision to avoid the area as a whole as Covid outbreaks spread to Nansha and Shekou in western Shenzhen. Newly enforced lockdown measures in the area are also limiting the availability of truck drivers.

By way of an example Maersk, the world’s largest liner, now advises that 64 vessels have omitted Yantian and Shekou, up from 40 vessels listed just two days ago.

The situation has now surpassed March’s Suez Canal blockage in terms of container disruption with median dwell times for containers at Yantian now pushing 18 days according to data from project44.

“From port handling in Yantian alone, the sheer number of containers (not vessels) impacted now exceed the number of containers impacted in Suez,” Lars Jensen, CEO of advisory Vespucci Maritime, wrote in an update on LinkedIn today.

Jensen warned: “Add to this ripples such as problems in recent weeks getting new empty containers into South China. Then you will have a pile of cargo in backlog coming out of Yantian once everything re-opens given rise to a surge on the destination side with some timelag. You will have a pile of reefer cargo already on vessels inbound for Yantian but which is now being discharged in other ports increasing the risk that other ports will run out of reefer plugs (as we also saw in early 2020).”

Like the Suez blockage, shippers have been warned to brace for extended ripple effects from the Yantian closure over the summer months.

Yantian handled 13.3m teu in 2020. It is responsible for more than one-third of Guangdong’s foreign trade and a quarter of China’s trade with the US.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

Comments

  1. One interesting aspect here – which also applies to the recent pile-up of vessels we saw while the Suez Canal was blocked – is that there are no reports of these stationary and therefore vulnerable ships being boarded by thieves or armed robbers. Had a similar situation arose somewhat more to the south, well… let’s just say that such crimes would have been unsurprising and for the most part expected.

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