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Congestion at South China ports worsening

  • Total queue of vessels waiting to berth at Yantian port continues to increase and the average waiting time is now 16 days, up from the previous 14 days
  • The Port of Yantian has reopened the west port yard and one more berth, allowing up to seven vessels alongside at the same time
  • The port’s eastern area, where mother vessels mainly berth, has improved productivity slightly towards 45% of normal levels from the previous 30%
  • But the steady daily inbound flow continues and is heightening terminal congestion and vessel delays, forcing more ships to avoid Yantian

The western yard and one more berth at the problematic Port of Yantian in southern China have been reopened, but shippers should not heave a sigh of relief yet, based on Maersk’s latest updates.

In its June 11 customer advisories, the container carrier said the situation at the ports of Yantian and Shekou in Shenzhen and at Nansha port in Guangzhou in South China continues to deteriorate as more positive COVID cases have been confirmed in these areas.

Yard density of the ports in Yantian, Shekou and Nansha remains elevated with disinfection and quarantine measures being continuously implemented by local authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At present, the total queue of vessels waiting to berth at Yantian continues to increase and the average waiting time is now 16 days, up from the previous 14 days, Maersk said.

This is happening even as the Port of Yantian has reopened the west port yard for laden import pickup and one more berth has been reopened, allowing a maximum of seven vessels alongside at the same time.

This has resulted in the slight recovery of operation in the eastern area of the Yantian International Container Terminal (YICT), where mother vessels mainly berth, raising productivity towards 45% of normal levels from the previous 30%.

But even as gate activity at Yantian is soon expected to reach more normal levels, Maersk pointed out that the daily inbound flow remains steady and is leading to continued terminal congestion and vessel delays.

Schedule reliability will “continue to suffer with an average waiting time of 16 days and counting,” it said.

The shipping line said 40-foot general purpose and 40-foot high cube empty supply is negatively impacted with massive vessel delays and omissions in Yantian and Shekou. “Customers are encouraged to amend to 20 GP as an alternative in Yantian and Shekou.”

Currently, 19 of Maersk’s mainline services are being affected, with many of the ships planning to omit Yantian for the whole month of June, the carrier said.

“In diverting our vessels, we are closely monitoring the situation in neighbouring ports. The current average waiting time in Shekou, Nansha, and Hongkong is between 2-4 days, but as more carriers omit Yantian, this number is expected to rise,” Maersk stated.

It further warned that shipments not directly impacted by the Yantian situation “might also be affected as we adjust our network to avoid port congestions and to limit the overall net loss of ocean network capacity due to omitting the Port of Yantian.”

Maersk added that with all these disruptions, 79 vessels including its partners’ vessels “have omitted the Port of Yantian and Shekou in order to protect schedule reliability. Our people are working relentlessly with the contingency plan which covers 56 vessels for origin export shipments.”

Other major shipping companies have also warned clients of vessel delays, changes to port call schedules, and the possibility of skipping some ports altogether, reported Reuters.

Ocean Network Express said in a notice on June 9 that YICT continues to operate below capacity while congestion at the container terminals in Shekou and Chiwan has surged to over 90% of capacity.

Photo by Gigel.atat

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