Singapore Port Congestion Sparks 7-Day Delays Amid Red Sea Fallout (2024)

The Red Sea crisis has had plenty of knock-on effects to the transportation of ocean freight worldwide, with major global ports now feeling the stress of shifting transit schedules.

Severe congestion at the Port of Singapore is leading to berthing delays for ships lasting as long as seven days, according to data from container shipping analysis firm Linerlytica. Under normal conditions, a vessel waits about a half a day to berth at the port.

The port is the second-largest in the world by total shipping tonnage handled after the Port of Shanghai, handling 39 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2023, but also is the largest transshipment hub. This is vital for global trade, as ships carrying goods can stop at the gateway to unload goods going to other ports, before loading additional cargo to be transported to their destination port.

Singapore has 450,000 TEUs of capacity right now waiting to get into the port or get out of the port,” said Goetz Alebrand, head of ocean freight Americas at DHL Global Forwarding. “That is even more than during the pandemic for Singapore itself, which is a big hub for intra-Asia and for east-west trade lanes.”

According to the Linerlytica report, the severe congestion has forced some carriers to blank their planned Singapore port calls, which will further aggravate the problem at downstream ports that will have to handle additional volumes. The gateway links to more than 600 ports worldwide, with an average 140,000 vessels calling at the port annually.

Container volumes handled in Singapore in the first four months of 2024 amounted to 13.36 million TEUs, an 8.8-percent increase in container volumes over the same period last year, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore said Thursday. From May 1 to May 23, the port received 999 ships, compared with just 639 in April, according to data from S&P Global Commodity Insights.

The MPA said in a note that off-schedule arrivals have largely been to blame for the vessel-bunching effect, in which multiple ships reach a port at the same time, or within a short period. The authority contends that the average wait time for a berth is now two to three days while highlighting that it is only for container ships.

In the statement, the MPA said it has worked with the country’s transportation ministry and the port’s operator, PSA, since late 2023 to add more manpower and container handling capacity to help prepare for higher vessel arrivals.

One such change implemented by PSA was the reactivation of shuttered berths and yards that have previously been decanted at Keppel Terminal. This move upped the number of containers the terminal could handle weekly, from 770,000 TEUs to a total of 820,000 TEUs currently.

Additionally, the port expects three new berths to begin operating at the Tuas Port container terminal later this year, with PSA accelerating the commissioning of the docks to help increase overall container handling capacity in the near term. The new berths supplement the eight existing ones already operating in the terminal.

Congestion has become more of a worldwide concern again, particularly in Asian and Western Mediterranean ports. Roughly 7 percent of global container capacity is presently caught up in port congestion, Alebrand told Sourcing Journal.

“Usually we say in a normal cycle, the usual average is about 2 percent to maybe 4 percent,” Alebrand said.

According to Linerlytica’s analysis, southeast Asia is the worst bottleneck accounting for more than a quarter (26 percent) of congestion while northeastern Asia is close behind at 23 percent.

On Monday, Maersk said in a customer advisory it was experiencing “substantial” delays in vessel schedules due to severe terminal congestion in Mediterranean and Asian ports. The congestion has resulted in extended waiting times at various ports, impacting the ocean carrier’s ability to maintain regular schedules.

As a result, Maersk will introduce blank voyages in the coming weeks, starting with MSC Amelia under service AE11, departing from Qingdao on July 1, and MSC Mirjam under service AE15, departing from Busan on July 2.

The Port of Singapore’s observance of off-schedule volumes extending the wait times for a berth plays into the wider congestion fears. The share of container ships arriving on time worldwide slumped to roughly 52 percent in April, falling 2.5 percentage points month over month and 12 percentage points below year-ago totals, according to maritime trade advisory service Sea-Intelligence.

At the time, the 2023 spring schedule reliability totals were a substantial improvement from pandemic-era lows of about 30 percent from early 2022.

Transit times overall have been seeing major jumps as the on-time rates fall. Sea-Intelligence also noted in another recent report that the average minimum transit time from the two sub-regions of Asia (north and southeast) to the three sub-regions of the Mediterranean (east, west and central) in the January-to-March period increased by 39 percent compared to the average during July-to-December 2023.

Singapore Port Congestion Sparks 7-Day Delays Amid Red Sea Fallout (2024)
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