A fifth of the world’s container ships are stuck in port congestion, says Windward

With lockdowns impacting the movement of vessels at the major Chinese ports, container ship congestion appears to be spreading to other ports around the globe, according to data from Israel based maritime AI company Windward.

There had been signs of progress that the backlogs of containerships stacked up outside ports might be easing, but that trend now appeared to have reversed.

Windward said that, according to the latest data, a fifth of all the world’s containerships were stuck in port congestion. Windward further calculated that a quarter of all the ships were stuck at Chinese ports.

A number of containerships were reporting to be diverting away from Shanghai as a result of the now near-month-long lockdown, and this had increased delays at other ports, such as Ningbo-Zhoushan.

The reversal of the trend looked to be correlated strongly with the introduction of the Shanghai lockdown at the end of March. Towards the end of last month Sea-Intelligence had reported the first improvement in schedule reliability since the Covid-19 pandemic first took hold in early 2020. While nearly two-thirds of all containerships were still behind schedule in February 2022, Sea-Intelligence’s monthly Global Liner Performance report highlighted that reliability had returned to levels not experienced since mid-2021.

Windward warned on April 19th that “the number of container vessels waiting outside of Chinese ports today is 195% higher than it was in February.”

“The trend is clear – in the April and March snapshots, there were 506 and 470 vessels, respectively, stuck outside of Chinese ports. In February, that number was only 260. In essence, lockdowns in China have nearly doubled the congestion outside the country’s ports,” Windward said.

Official Chinese statements are appearing to verge on denial with Chinese officials continuing to insist, in the face of all the evidence, that the port of Shanghai was open and functioning – exploiting a closed loop that enabled port workers to be placed inside a bubble separated from the city and people coming and going to the port. But lorry drivers have been required to show negative Covid-19 tests in order to enter the port, and truck traffic has been greatly reduced. The ports were experiencing shortages of employees due to the spread of the virus.

On the other side of the Pacific, The Marine Exchange of Southern California’s data has also been showing that the number of container vessels waiting was increasing. On April 4th California reached a new low on its containership traffic. with a total of 33 ships heading to Los Angeles and Long Beach. By April 19th this backlog had increased in Southern California backlog to 51 containerships, either near shore or steaming toward the ports. California restrictions now mean that any “delays” manifest themselves farther out in the Pacific – sometimes as far as the other side of the ocean.

Windward said that “when looking at the global picture, between April 12-13, 2022, 1,826 container vessels were waiting outside of ports worldwide. That’s 20% of all container vessels globally!”

Windward’s Maritime AI data showed that 506 vessels were waiting offshore at China’s ports, equal to 27.7% of all the ships waiting outside of ports around the world. In February Windward calculated that the backlog off China’s ports accounted for 14.8% of the vessels stuck in port congestion worldwide.

Meanwhile in Shanghai there has been a reported decline in the number of daily cases. Local health authorities have begun to relax some restrictions, permitting factories to resume work (once again using a closed-loop system of keeping workers onsite).