This week all carriers have reported severe shortages of 40ft high-cubes at depots, and there has also been a run on 40ft standard boxes, with even 20ft containers beginning to show as unavailable at times.
Meanwhile, the empty equipment so desperately needed back in Asia is scattered around depots across Europe, particularly in the UK, where embattled ports have been forced to limit the restoration of containers back onto already overcrowded terminals.
A recent Alphaliner report stated, 'All containers are very much in need; they still spend on average 45 days empty at depots, especially in regions with low container availability such as China and the US, the average is comparably high, with 61 and 66 days respectively, compared with the global average of 45 days.'
Shipping lines have announced the temporary suspension of cargo bookings into South China next month, blaming reduced capacity from local feeder operators. The move has prompted dismay among local forwarders who have warned customers “not to hesitate” to take any chance of booking cargo prior to Chinese New Year, which falls on 12th February. Last week, OOCL reported a “sharp” drop in available feeder capacity, due to Covid quarantine rules affecting ship crews, telling customers it would suspend bookings for South China ports from as early as 11th January until 23rd February. And ONE made a similar announcement highlighting restrictions will begin on 5th January and continue at some ports until 26th February. Ports impacted include Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Fujian.
There have been reports of vessels leaving China underutilised on some trades, due to the chronic lack of equipment with forecasters expecting the challenges to continue until after Chinese New Year.
The other option available to lines is to increase vessel speeds – faster service unlocks structural capacity in a shipping string – although this does come with increased costs.