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Asia trumps US, Europe in box turnaround speed, study finds

  • Containers spent an average of five days at depots in China in 2021 compared to 61 days in 2020 
  • Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were also among leading exporters to see rapid box turnarounds last year
  • Containers are spending more than 50 days in depots in the US, UK, UAE and South Africa 

Containers are now moving in and out of China at record speeds, but port congestion in Europe and the US continues to slow the return of boxes to Asia and is stymieing the recovery of global ocean supply chains, according to Container xChange.

In a joint report with applied research organization Fraunhofer–CML, logistics technology company Container xChange said the average median time containers spent in Chinese depots last year dropped to just five days, down from 61 days in 2020.

Moreover, China is joined by other leading exporters such as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia in seeing rapid box turnarounds last year. Vietnam recorded average median times for container stays in depots of nine days, while Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia logged 11 and 16 and 19 days, respectively.

“Once containers reach Asia, they are being redeployed at record speeds. However, the mismatch between supply and demand at many origin ports, including in China, means it is hard for US and European importers to always secure boxes unless they have planned ahead, or are working closely with their box supplier, forwarder or container line, to ensure they have both a vessel slot and a container available in advance,” said Johannes Schlingmeier, co-founder and CEO of Container xChange.

By contrast, severe congestion in many destination ports saw container dwell times at depots reach near-record levels in 2021.

The worst performing countries in terms of average median time that containers spent in depots in 2021 were the US and the UK, which suffered average dwell times of 50 and 51 days, respectively.

The next worst performers were South Africa (47 days), United Arab Emirates (40 days), Pakistan (31 days) and Germany (25 days), said the report.

Container shipping rates have bounced back after a slight downturn in the fourth quarter and port congestion is a major factor, Schlingmeier added.

He said research found that in November last year some 36.2% of box ship capacity was at port, adding that until that congestion is cleared, there will continue to be major imbalances in the supply and demand of both vessel capacity and containers.

“As the Omicron variant brings more disruption, with Chinese New Year around the corner and some ports including Ningbo already facing lockdowns, we are expecting a volatile start to the year for ocean freight logistics,” he said.

The study found that the US, the second worst performer in terms of the average median time containers spent in depots in 2021, had widely varying performances by port. Across the country, average dwell times were 50 days in 2021, down from 66 days in 2020. New York recorded 61 days of container idle time at depots followed by Houston (59 days) and Savannah (56 days). The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on average recorded 40 to 42 days of container idle time.

Photo by Dominik Lückmann on Unsplash

 

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