"Chartering vessels is just one example of investments we've made to move products as quickly as possible," said Walmart vice president Joe Metzger.The retail giant recently drafted into service the dry bulk cargo ship, The Flying Buttress, which once glided across the oceans carrying vital commodities like grain to all corners of the world. Now it bears a different treasure: Paw Patrol Movie Towers, Batmobile Transformers and Baby Alive Lulu Achoo dolls."The aim is to bypass log-jammed ports and secure scarce ship space at a time when Covid, as well as US-China trade ructions, equipment shortages and extreme weather, have exposed the fragility of the globe-spanning supply lines we use for everything from food and fashion to drinks and diapers," said Mr Metzger.More than 60 container ships carrying clothing, furniture and electronics worth billions of dollars are stuck outside Los Angeles and Long Beach terminals, waiting to unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.Pre-pandemic, it was unusual for more than one ship to be in the waiting lane at the No 1 US port complex, which handles more than half of all American imports.Other big retail players, such as Target, Home Depot, Costco and Dollar Tree, have said they are chartering ships to deal with the pandemic-driven slowdown of sea networks that handle 90 per cent of the world's trade.Or, as Steve Ferreira of shipping consultancy Ocean Audit describes the escalating concern: "Containergeddon."US retailers' traditional lifeline from Asia is freezing up due to a resurgence of Covid in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia plus a power-supply crunch in China. The supply snarls coincide with booming demand as consumers spend more on goods than going out, and the festive shopping frenzy nears.Burt Flickinger, managing director at retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, said at least 20-25 per cent of the goods stuck on ships were unlikely to make it onto shelves in time for the November 26 Black Friday kickoff for the holiday shopping season, a period when retailers make more than a third of their profits.The biggest chains are taking matters into their own hands.The Flying Buttress, for example, entered Los Angeles waters on August 21. It got stuck in a queue outside the port before it bypassed clogged terminals and unloaded its goods at a separately operated bulk cargo dock nearby on August 31, according to Refinitiv data and shipping records.During that voyage, Walmart circumvented the shortage of FEUs by switching to bigger 53-footers used to move goods by truck and train within the United States.Other companies are also playing the shipping game including Home Depot which said it was "creatively working to obtain additional capacity".The home improvement retailer dodged the Los Angeles gridlock by sending its Great Profit charter ship nearly 125 miles south to the Port of San Diego.On September 15, the ship's onboard cranes hoisted 7-foot Halloween "Spellcasting witches", Christmas lights and other holiday decor onto docks there, said Ocean Audit CEO Ferreira, who helps shipping customers claw back overpayments."This is the home stretch. They're doing whatever it takes" to win in an overheated market, he said of retailers.
Still-open ports like Singapore have been faced with congestion, with the number of containers stuck in transit awaiting shipment.Yard capacity that opened at Tuas port last month is in addition to the 65,000 TEU capacity made available at the Keppel terminal late last year.This is as more than 2,500 locals were added to the maritime workforce, boosting the number of port workers 20 per cent.Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat said that Singapore is trying its best to help cargo ships make up for lost time, and more yard space can be made available when necessary."We have become the go-to port for shipping lines to catch up on lost time and connections, and also to untangle some of their operational challenges," he said."As more ships come to Singapore to make use of our one-stop service and catch-up service, it does also add on to the queues and the waiting times," Mr Chee said.Mr Chee said it is difficult to assess what the overall impact on other goods the supply crisis, which has so far most adversely impacted higher-value products, will have.But Singapore has widened its supply sources, including for food. "The more diversified, the more wide-ranging our supply sources are, the greater the confidence that will be in terms of being able to withstand any cyclical source disruption," he said.
This new service augments PIL's existing CSG service linking China and South East Asia to the Gulf area. The service calls at Ningbo, Nansha, Shekou, Jebel Ali, Dammam and then returns to Ningbo.This new service, known as Gulf China Service (GCS), will be offered by vessels with an average capacity of 3,000 TEU, jointly deployed by PIL, Regional Container Lines (RCL) and CULines (CUL).This new direct service is part of PIL's continuous efforts to respond to the needs of our customers for more direct and efficient services. Customers who book on this new GCS service will enjoy fast transit times from Ningbo, Nansha and Shekou, to Jebel Ali and Dammam.