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2021 Port Congestion Report: 10% of the live Container fleet and 20% of the live Bulker fleet currently waiting globally

Posted on November 11, 2021

Vessel and port congestion levels in 2021 so far have been unprecedented, significantly impacting capacity in the Container and Bulker sectors and disrupting global supply chains.

Global shipping congestion in 2021 has been profound in many ways. From Covid-19 related port disruptions, the continuation of the China/Australia Trade war causing long term delays off Chinese ports, to the ramifications of the Suez Canal blockage in March. Port congestion is yet to let up as we approach the middle of the fourth quarter in the lead up to Christmas.

It is no surprise that shipowners and operators are anxious at the prospect of a vessel being caught in congestion, as delays to the movements of goods can often be costly and disruptive. With a total of 2,366,401 TEU (10% of the live Container fleet) and 181,635,500 DWT (20% of the live Bulker fleet) currently waiting globally, congestion is a major factor influencing vessel availability and rates, as global economies continue to recover this year in the wake of the pandemic. VesselsValue Trade and AIS data allows us to examine some of the major congestion events that have happened so far in 2021 and assess the potential impact as 2022 fast approaches.

Bulker congestion in China (2020/2021)

China/Australia coal ban creates long term congestion off China

A Chinese ban on importing Australian coal was first rumoured around July 2020, as China began to promote using domestic coal and alternative sources, as opposed to Australian exports. This caused hundreds of Bulkers from Australia to sit waiting off Chinese ports in a bid to unload their cargo.

As a result, during the first six months of 2021, Capesize and Post Panamax vessels performed 17% less Australia to China journeys, carrying 14% less in cargo volume, compared to the same period in 2020. Despite a reduction in trade between Australia and China, many vessels continued their voyages to China, and this resulted in significant numbers of laden Bulkers stranded off Chinese ports, waiting to discharge their cargoes. Figure 1 shows a daily count of vessels en route from Australia, waiting off Chinese ports.



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