News travels fast. But this is 2021, so memes travel faster.
There was no shortage of breaking news alerts, analysis and, yes, memes throughout the six days the container ship Ever Given was stuck in the Suez Canal. And at least one of those things helped motivate crews to work faster.
Business Insider focuses on the story of a tugboat operator that witnessed the proliferation of memes in real time as he worked to free the Ever Given. No one likes to be laughed at, and apparently being a punchline motivated workers to work that much harder to free the vessel.
The meme motivation was originally reported in a Washington Post article that delves deep into the entire timeline of the incident and ensuing efforts to free the massive ship.
While investigations are still underway, the report indicates the ship started swerving from side to side amid 35 mile-per-hour winds. The Ever Given was traveling 13 miles per hour when it hit the shore of one of the narrowest segments in the canal, making it impossible for other ships to pass and difficult for even small vessels to get around the Ever Given to assist in salvage efforts. Over time, more equipment and more crews arrived, and a combination of digging, dredging, pulling and high tides ultimately led to its recovery.
About 350 vessels were stopped as a result of the incident, backing up traffic and causing some carriers to take a two-week diversion around the Cape of Good Hope.
In a year where capacity is at an all-time low, the Suez Canal disruption has carriers and ports scrambling to make up for lost time.
All of the ships that were blocked by the Ever Given will arrive at ports about a week late, and because traffic piled up for about a week, it means that vessels will be arriving at ports in bunches.
In an interview with the Journal of Commerce, Maersk head of network for east-west trades, Lars Mikael Jensen indicated that the carrier is now thinking about how it can mitigate the incoming traffic at ports. Because many east-west vessels operate on a container loop, making stops at multiple ports in a rotation before returning to origin, the nearest ports could soon bear the brunt of the backlog.
One idea is for some of the ships on rotation to unload all of their cargo at some of the large hubs and skip the rest of the rotation. That cargo could then be picked up by ensuing ships as they complete their full rotation. The challenge, however, lies in how containers are loaded onto ships — last on, first out. That setup could cause further complications on the ground, in turn slowing down the process of unloading and reloading the backed-up ships.
Nikolaus Sievers, VP of Customer Success at Slync.io, points out in a Supply Chain Matters article that the backlog could have another effect on LSPs and carriers — an influx of data and communications from shippers trying to understand the status of their freight as operations slowly recover. Those service providers could be left with a boatload of messy data to sort through, making it difficult to prioritize and take action based on all the exceptions that could occur in the coming weeks.
Don’t get too excited about the Suez Canal situation being resolved. There’s still that whole west coast backlog that’s been slowing U.S. imports for the last six months or so.
Bloomberg points out that west coast congestion got worse last week, with the number of ships waiting to offload standing at 26. While that’s still not as bad as the peak number of 40 anchored vessels that occurred in February, it’s not the kind of progress all in the industry would like to see. Average wait time for a ship waiting off a west coast port is still hovering between seven and eight days.
The cruel punchline is that as long as a high number of ships wait outside a port, it continues to reduce overall capacity and container availability, keeping rates for those services and space unusually high.
While carriers are working to overcome the delays caused by recent disruptions, they’re also making it harder to secure new capacity.
As a result of the Suez Canal blockage, Maersk has temporarily suspended short-term and spot contracts, The Loadstar reports, and it’s making life even more difficult for LSPs who now need to find alternatives. Maersk indicates it will be operating at a loss of about 30% of its capacity in the coming weeks. As noted above, the carrier is working to mitigate a backlog in Asia-Europe trade while balancing ongoing congestion across transpacific shipping lanes.
With one avenue shut down for the short term, LSPs and NVOCCs are left fighting for a finite amount of capacity elsewhere.
“They might choose different ways on how to manage their booking intake – but will face the same types of constraints,” Lars Jensen of SeaIntelligence told The Loadstar.
All of those disruptions and traffic jams in ocean freight have the retail industry worried there aren’t enough in-demand products to go around.
Amid a spike in demand for imports, ongoing container shortages and the extended backlog of ships outside of American ports, retailers are sounding the alarm that low inventories will lead to lost sales and reduced sales across the spring and summer seasons, Supply Chain Dive reports. And even when containers are hitting U.S. shores, the industry points out that shortages in chassis and dray capacity, along with strained trucking networks are further adding to the challenge.
Citing U.S. Census Bureau data, Supply Chain Dive reports the current inventory to sales ratio is at its lowest level since 2012. While it’s a concern for retailers, low inventory levels won’t necessarily stop consumers from finding alternatives. Whether it’s from a competing retailer, a different brand, or from a secondary market, commerce always finds a way.
"For the most part, consumers can find options," Jonathan Forster, a principal consultant at Proxima Group, told Supply Chain Dive. "And so, retailers that aren't adjusting, they're losing out, and it'll be really hard for them to capture that sale again."
Thanks for stopping by, folks! Happy Friday! Don’t forget to check out last week’s news and come back next week for the following Friday Five logistics news roundup!