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Carriers’ Schedule Reliability Improves for First Time in Two Years 

container carrier schedule reliability
With congestion growing at Shanghai, recent improvements in schedule reliability may be in jeopardy (Shanghai file photo)

Published Mar 30, 2022 1:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

After a prolonged decline, schedule reliability among container carriers showed the first significant improvement since the onset of the pandemic. While nearly two-thirds of all containerships are still behind schedule, reliability returned to levels not experienced since mid-2021, The number of days behind schedule, however, remains high and experts are warning that the improvements could be short-lived as backups are building rapidly at China’s ports.

“It is the first significant month-over-month improvement we have seen in schedule reliability since March 2020,” explains Alan Murphy, CEO of Sea-Intelligence, a research, analytics, and advisory firm for the shipping industry. The results were contained in the company’s monthly Global Liner Performance report which covers schedule reliability across 34 different trade lanes and more than 60 carriers.

Global schedule reliability for container carriers improved by 4.0 percentage points between January and February 2022, reaching 34.4 percent. In February 2022, the schedule reliability score was only marginally lower February 2021. It returned to levels seen in the spring and fall of 2021 before a precipitous year-end decline during which schedule reliability hit the lowest global level in the 11 years Sea-Intelligence has been measuring the carriers’ performance.

While overall reliability improved in February, among the 14 largest carriers eight recorded year-over-year declines ranging anywhere from nine percent for MSC to a 26 percent decline for Wan Hai. Maersk remains at the top of the list showing a nine percent improvement in reliability reaching 47.8 percent followed by Hamburg Süd with 42.4 percent. Only MSC, CMA CGM, and ZIM had schedule reliability between 30 and 40 percent, with nine carriers recording schedule reliability below 30 percent. Only HMM experience a month-over-month decline in schedule reliability, with Evergreen recording the largest month-over-month improvement.

“That said, the delays have now been over seven days since August 2021, and continue to be the highest across each month when compared historically,” Murphy noted. The delay for late vessels also improved month-over-month by approximately three-quarters of a day, but it remained at 7.11 days in February 2022 and higher than a year ago.

Sea-Intelligence’s data is confirmed by individual ports which have experienced declines in their backlogs. The Marine Exchange of Southern California yesterday reported that the number of containerships waiting for berth space at Los Angeles and Long Beach is down by more than half since the peak at the beginning of January. In recent days has remained fairly constant at just over 40 containerships versus 109 in January. The Port of Los Angeles highlighted similar progress saying that its 30-day rolling average is just 3.2 days average time awaiting berth.

China, however, where the supply chain begins is recording dramatic increases in its backlog after areas of Shenzhen had new COVID-related restrictions earlier in 2022 and even before districts in Shanghai began mandatory 5-day lockdowns this week. VesselsValue reported a nearly five-fold increase in the number of ships waiting off Shanghai just before the lockdown that further closed warehouses and manufacturing and restricted truck movements this week. Their data shows that the number of ships waiting to load or discharge at Shanghai had risen in the last two and half weeks to over 300 vessels of all types versus a previous high of under 200 vessels.

Shanghai port officials continue to emphasize that the port remains open and operational. The most recent reports from the city, however, are showing a significant increase in the number of positive COVID tests leading to predictions that the lockdowns will be extended for the city of nearly 26 million people and home to the world’s busiest container port. Carriers including CMA CGM and Maersk are already warning customers of increased costs and delays and have begun adjusting schedules as more of China’s key ports experience growing backlogs and declines in productivity.