A SHORTAGE of empty containers in China is proving problematic for carriers, although those in the Australian trade are not panicking – yet.

The UK’s The Loadstar yesterday [21 May] reported Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd  in Yantian, Cosco, HMM, Hapag-Lloyd and MSC in Ningbo, Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk in Tianjin, and Cosco and CMA CGM in Qingdao were all struggling, while in Shanghai, “almost all carriers are lacking empties, especially CMA and ANL”.

The shortages are being attributed to the extra inventory tied up by elongated transits caused by Red Sea diversions, which is also delayed or trapped in ports such as Colombo and in the Mediterranean seeing higher transhipment volumes and greater congestion. Singapore is expecting congestion until year’s end.

Carriers contacted by DCN locally are feeling extra pressure to return empties as fast and frequently as possible, although at this stage no-one appears to have booked empties sweeper voyages.

So far there is no evidence of containers being diverted to other potentially more profitable trades, either, a situation doubtless helped by a steady rise in southbound rates from around US$700/TEU around a month ago to 1300/TEU.

“The old-fashioned equation was that you needed 3 x the vessel capacity in inventory,” one line offered. “At the moment 200,000-300,000 TEU of new capacity is being delivered each month yet new box production peaked at 560,000 TEU.

“That does make sense if the lines taking delivery had felt those vessels wouldn’t initially be needed, then they wouldn’t need the matching inventory. Until they did. And now they do.”

Another said: “I would assume the current equipment shortages in Asia will be ongoing for some time. We have no plans to deploy a sweeper at this stage but clearly will push to ensure we are maximizing all slots from Australia/NZ.”

A third confirmed “There is a lot of pressure on us to get units back to China – more pressure than usual – so equipment is tight.”