The container liner shipping industry is dynamic and complex. Essentially, it consists of a fleet of vessels under a common ownership or management strategy in order to provide a fixed service at regular intervals between ports of call and offer transport of containerized goods. Currently, it is estimated that 80% of world commodities is transported by seaborne trade.
Performance on service punctuality is a topic of interest following various initiatives by many liner shipping operators that have developed a policy for future sustainability, focusing on guaranteed punctual arrivals. However, managing the time factor is not easy for liner shipping operators. In fact, according to Drewry Shipping Consultants, the schedule reliability for overall container shipping achieves an on-time performance of 73%.
What Causes Vessel to Be Delayed?
Vessels sailing on the high seas are exposed rough weather conditions through most of their journey. Any adverse weather conditions (such as hurricanes or storms) can delay the vessel and cause it to arrive beyond its scheduled time. This can also happen at berth: if climatic conditions are bad, loading and unloading activities are suspended, causing a delay in the vessel leaving the port and prolonging its journey to the subsequent ports of call.
During times of low demand, there is not sufficient cargo to fill ships. Thus, carriers cancel a few sailings on the affected trade lanes and fill available cargo in the remaining vessel sailings. This is known as blanking sailings.
Although blank sailings may help carriers save on the variable costs for a particular voyage, they have a direct impact on schedule reliability and transit delays.
Port call omissions
Port call omissions happen when carriers omit a particular port if it is congested or cargo handling and evacuation is exceptionally slow and proceed directly to the next scheduled port of call. The containers destined for the omitted port are then discharged at the next port and transported back to the original destination through alternate modes of transport (rail, feeder vessels, truck). Port call omissions have an adverse impact on schedule reliability and cargo delivery times.
Delays in Customs and other Government offices
Sometimes the time taken by Customs and Government agencies to inspect and pass the container takes longer than usual. This could be caused by stringent checking of cargo and containers, additional checking due to information about contraband being transported, insufficient manpower, or lengthy bureaucratic processes.
Inadequate infrastructure at ports
Sometimes port authorities have the basic infrastructure in place but lack the resources to upgrade their facilities to keep pace with rising container volumes and upsized vessels calling at their shores.
In such cases, this inhibits the ability of the port to effectively handle vessels calling at the port, taking longer to load and unload containers, which in turn causes vessel delays and impacts schedule reliability.
Has punctuality improved?
Schedule reliability has been a sore point for the container industry. A report from Sea Intelligence, a Danish consulting firm, says that there was a severe drop in container ship punctuality during the Covid-19 pandemic: the average delay was 5.5 days in October 2022. The same report states that global schedule reliability declined to 35.8% last year.
Although close to half of all ships are still delayed, things are moving in the right direction in terms of schedule reliability. Container carriers have improved their punctuality as pandemic-related congestion has eased.
According to Sea Intelligence, 52 percent of container ships are able to arrive on time, an improvement of 6.6 percentage points compared to the previous month, confirming the gradual process of improvement.