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Singapore Endures More Port Delays as 90% of Container Ships Arrive Late


Posted on July 8, 2024

Congestion at the Port of Singapore has gotten so bad that 90 percent of container ships are arriving at the site later than scheduled, Singapore’s transport minister Chee Hong Tat told the country’s parliament on Tuesday.

According to Chee, 77 percent of vessels were late to the port on average in 2023. But this year’s deluge of off-schedule arrivals has been compounded by the Red Sea crisis, in which ongoing attacks in the waterway by Yemen-based Houthi rebels have forced ocean carriers traveling between Asia and Europe to reroute ships around southern Africa.

“Many of the vessels are arriving within a short window, compounding the issue by causing a ‘vessel-bunching’ effect,” Chee told the parliament. “As a result, both the demands and complexity of container handling at our port have increased.”

Major global ports including Singapore, as well as Shanghai and Ningbo in China, and Port Kelang in Malaysia, have felt the heat of the congestion due to the lengthier transit times in addition to a capacity crunch out at sea. Maersk estimated that Asia-to-Europe shipping capacity would shrink by as much as 20 percent due to the mass rerouting.

Container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd indicated Tuesday that waiting times in Singapore are varying between 50 and 80 hours, while the wait at Kelang is even higher at 60 to 120 hours. Berth waiting times in Shanghai vary between 48 and 72 hours depending on the terminal, while the Ningbo port has a range of no waiting time to 48-hour delays.

In Singapore, which is the world’s second-busiest port in handling 39 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2023, delayed shipments jumped 44 percent in May from a year earlier, and through June 25 were up 27 percent year-over-year, according to data from supply chain visibility platform FourKites.

Further adding to the issue, the Port of Singapore is also the largest transshipment hub in the world, meaning that more ships docking at other major global ports are likely to stop at the gateway. Vessels can stop at Singapore to unload goods to other ships that are headed for other ports before loading additional cargo that they can transport to their destination port.

May seems to have been the peak of congestion for incoming boats, when ships had to wait for as long as a week to berth, compared with half a day in normal periods. But outbound and transshipped containers still have a dwelling time of just under 10 days, according to data from EconDB, a service providing economic indicators for the shipping industry. The firm indicates that 248 vessels are expected to arrive at the Port of Singapore in the next seven days.

Tan Hua Joo, a container market analyst at Linerlytica, told Bloomberg that the pileup in Singapore has eased somewhat, “but only because vessels are omitting calls at the port.” The analyst said the backlogs are likely to take a least one more month to be resolved.

Global port congestion has reached an 18-month high, with Asia’s ports having seen the most traffic backups, according to Linerlytica. Of the idled container capacity globally that’s waiting to dock, 23 percent is in Southeast Asia, 20 percent is in the Middle East and 11 percent is in the Indian subcontinent.

In line with a national plan to expand Singapore’s port capacity, the first of three additional berths at the $20 billion Tuas Port container terminal began operating on July 1 amid the lingering congestion, as more container ships waited for their turn to berth. Including the recently opened space, Tuas Port operates nine container berths.

The two other berths at Tuas Port will commence operations in October and December, Chee said.

Earlier in 2024, port operator PSA sought to further alleviate congestion by reactivating some of the berths and yard space at its Keppel and Tanjong Pagar city terminals, which had been closed as operations move to Tuas Port by 2027.

While Singapore is taking the steps to scale up capacity, Chee warned the parliament that it is unlikely that the Red Sea disruptions will ease anytime soon, and added that backlogs could also be intensified by an increase in container volumes as shippers bring forward export schedules out of Asia in preparation for major holidays in the second half of the year.

The total volume of containers passing through the Port of Singapore increased to 16.9 million TEUs between January and May, up 7.7 percent from 15.7 million containers during the same period in 2023.


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