Port congestions slow down container turnaround, keeps yard utilization low

Image by Jarosław Bialik from Pixabay
  • Congestion in international ports has slowed empty container turnaround, according to the Alliance of Container Yard Operators of the Philippines (ACYOP)
  • Average container turnaround among ACYOP member yards is 15 to 20 days from 10 to 15 days when regional ports were fully operational
  • Slowdown has partly caused the container shortage which have hit Philippine exporters hard
  • The average utilization of ACYOP container yards is currently at 66%, low for the peak season
  • ACYOP’s Online Truck Advance Booking System will be fully operational by September 1, 2021

Congestion in international ports has caused a slowdown in turnaround of empty containers and the subsequent low utilization of container yards, according to the Alliance of Container Yard Operators of the Philippines (ACYOP).

Empty container turnaround in ACYOP member yards has stretched to 15 to 20 days from the previous 10 to 15 days when key ports in the Asian region were fully operational, said ACYOP president Roger Torres in an email to PortCalls. ACYOP is formerly Container Depot Alliance of the Philippines.

Meishan terminal, which handles around 25% of the containers at Ningbo-Zhoushan port, has been closed since August 11 after a dockworker tested positive for the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant. Ningbo-Zhoushan port is the world’s third busiest container port and the closure of one of its terminals is also worsening congestion at other major Chinese ports where ships are being diverted from Ningbo port.

Other major ports in the region have likewise reported congestion owing to the lingering effects of the pandemic, which since last year has triggered various shipping issues such as vessel capacity and container shortage, port congestion, and higher freight rates.

Despite the peak season being in full swing, the current average utilization of ACYOP member yards is below normal at 66%.

Torres noted empty container arrivals and repositioning should have already started in preparation for the holiday season.

“Only a trickle of incoming containers are arriving and re-exporting/repositioning of empty containers dwindled drastically compared [to] when the Ningbo key [port was] fully functional and less congestions [were] experienced in the Asian region,” he said.

READ: Brace for shipment delays as China ports choke, PPA tells shippers

Port congestions due to the pandemic have restricted the movement of international cargo vessels and have led to vessels skipping ports that are too congested or waiting it out until they get a berth. Either way, the situation causes a disruption in delivery of containers, fuelling a container shortage. Philippine exporters have for some time been complaining of such a scarcity.

Torres said they expect empty containers to stay longer in their yards if the Meishan terminal remains closed and diminished activities in Indochina, including in manufacturing powerhouse Vietnam, continue due to the pandemic.

Torres said the reimposition of the enhanced community quarantine “did not do as much damage in the turnaround of containers because businessmen are optimistic that ECQ will be relaxed during the holidays.”

“So, they have to make the orders and preparations for the holidays (Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year). What impacted the turnaround of containers are the closures and reduction of operations of key ports in the region where imports are coming from or exports are being sent to,” he explained.

ACYOP’s Online Truck Advance Booking System (TABS) launched early this year has helped manage truck queuing, Torres said, solving the previously “chaotic queuing system” when truckers had to queue at the depots and wait to be served.

He said that now, truckers can register online and choose their preferred date and time from available slots under TABS. Truckers have a window of one hour before and one hour after their preferred time to travel to the depots. With TABS, Torres said trucks come only during their appointed time, avoiding needless waiting at container yards.

He added truckers can now “fully utilize their trucks’ delivery runs aside from returning empty containers or withdrawing containers.”

ACYOP’s TABS–not to be mistaken with the Truck Appointment Booking System also called TABS being implemented by Manila’s international terminals–will be fully operational by September 1, 2021.

Torres said they envision the adoption of TABS by all container yard operators as part of the new normal, helping regulate trucks’ presence on the road and easing traffic along truck routes.

“We believe that by the reduction of truck presence on the roads, we reduce also proportionately the number of persons on the road (i.e. drivers and truck helpers),” Torres said.

He said ACYOP is looking at proposing to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority adoption of the group’s TABS to regulate traffic and reduce warm bodies on the road. – Roumina Pablo