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Competitive Shipping: Container Crisis Dominates Trade News

By Bruce Abbe
 
The leading international container shipping trade news media over the past week continued to focus on the current crisis in the global container shipping system. Here is an overview: 
 
“Trans-Pacific container system slows under Asia import surge” The Journal of Commerce (JOC) noted in a feature posted Friday that covered the proverbial waterfront on the issues at hand – the “… seemingly unending deluge of imports from Asia into North America …” clogging of the system and “slowing cargo through rail hubs including Chicago,” ever-climbing rate increases, and a reminder that this is occurring right before the traditional March start-up period of contract negotiations between shippers and ocean carriers. 
 
On a positive note, new services and efforts to find alternative gateways were also noted. 
 
Logistics failures costing business: U.S. Exporters” Input from SSGA factored heavily in a separate JOC report that focused on challenges exporters are facing:   
 
(SSGA) which represents exporters of identity-preserved grains, peas, lentils, food-grade soybeans, and other agricultural products that move in containers, is hearing from its members that their problems start with a lack of communication from carriers when sailings are canceled, or departure times changed, or when vessels are overbooked and their shipments are “rolled” to subsequent voyages.  But the problems don’t stop there. 
 
“The ultimate kick in the teeth is when they charge you detention and demurrage for it,” (SSGA’s) Bruce Abbe said, referring to fees that carriers levy for containers that sit at the ports after free storage time elapses, or for the late return of equipment. Exporters say they are being charge for breakdowns in the supply chain that they did not cause.” 
 
Exporters have been urging ocean carriers to provide shippers with timely information, with adequate lead time, so that they can manage shipments and avoid costly unfair penalty fees. 
 
Agriculture Transportation Coalition Executive Director Peter Friedmann noted the issues at hand were addressed last year by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), which issued guidelines ocean carriers should follow to make such penalties serve the purpose of improving container flow system-wide. The carriers, he charged, “ignore” the FMC guidelines because they have turned detention, demurrage and other such penalties into profit moves, JOC reported.    
 
“Carriers are making money on these ancillary charges while their customers are losing their shirts,” Friedmann said. 
 
California wants FMC action, too California is also pressing the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to take immediate action on the ocean shipping crisis to protect against the delays and rising costs buffeting the state’s huge agriculture export industry. 
 
California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis laid out several possible steps in a letter to the FMC, including the suspension or reduction of detention and demurrage penalties and cancellation of “congestion surcharges”— another new onerous development at least one carrier is hitting shippers with. Better, timely communication with shippers and truckers on empty return times was another recommendation.   
 
“Immediate steps must be taken to help alleviate the multitude of challenges being experienced at the ports,” Kounalakis told the commissioners. 
 
New containers may not be enough to meet demand The head of one of the largest container leasing companies, CAI International, told Freightwaves last week the three large Chinese container manufacturing companies, which control 80% of the global trade, are not likely to produce enough containers for the industry to “build its way out of the equipment crisis.”     
 
They are “managing output to keep prices high,” he reportedly said. Other shipping industry consultants concurred.     
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