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Top 5 Reasons for Shipping Container Delays



A post by Marine Traffic



Unpredictability seems to be the theme of our modern world, especially when it comes to global supply chains.


From a pandemic that has thrown industries around the world into turmoil, to labour shortages and trade policy changes, shipping container delays have become an all too common headache for businesses.


In this article, we’ll go over the top 5 reasons for container shipping delays and how businesses can effectively manage them.


What is the impact of shipping container delays?


Shipping container delays can have far-reaching effects on various industries and businesses around the world. They can impact supply chains, customer satisfaction, shipping rates, and overall business operations.


One of the main consequences of shipping container delays is increased costs. When goods arrive late, companies can incur additional costs such as storage fees, expedited shipping fees or even fines for late deliveries.


These additional costs can significantly reduce profit margins.


Supply chain disruption is another factor. Delays in the delivery of key components or finished products can lead to production bottlenecks and inventory shortages. This affects the entire ecosystem of suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.


Customer satisfaction also suffers when there are delays in shipping containers. Consumers expect their orders to be delivered on time, and delays in the delivery of goods can lead to negative reviews, customer complaints and a damaged brand reputation.


In addition, the longer waiting times caused by these delays can upset carefully planned schedules.


This creates inefficiencies in resource allocation as companies struggle to accurately forecast demand or plan future deliveries, and creates backlogs and uncertainty.


Overall, the impact of shipping container delays goes beyond mere inconvenience; it affects profitability, customer satisfaction, supply chain efficiency, and long-term business strategies.



Reason #1: Port Congestion


Port congestion is when a number of ships are waiting outside a port and are unable to load or unload cargo because the terminal is already full, resulting in “traffic” at sea.


The more traffic that’s at the port, the later a container ship will unload its cargo, for example, and the higher the costs that will pile up for the shipping company to pay in the end.


Port congestion is one of the main causes of delays in container shipping, and its effects are exacerbated by various factors.


While world trade continues to recover after the pandemic-related slowdown, ports around the world are struggling to cope with rising cargo volumes.


Rising consumer demand for goods, combined with supply chain disruptions and labour shortages, has led to containers piling up at major ports (e.g. the American ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, two major hubs for trans-Pacific trade between Asia and North America).


Shipping companies have problems finding free berths for cargo ships due to limited capacity in busy ports, resulting in longer waiting times for ships.


You might find yourself wondering, “What’s that got to do with me?”

Well, those goods you were expecting in Shanghai last week? Looks like they’ll be making their debut next week instead!


In addition, there is a shortage of lorry drivers to transport containers from the port to their final destinations.


Port congestion not only impacts retailers and manufacturers, but also freight forwarders who rely on timely deliveries.

They disrupt supply chains and contribute to rising freight rates as shipping companies try to compensate for delays.


In response to the challenges of port congestion, MarineTraffic introduces an innovative port call optimisation solution that uses cutting-edge technology and data analytics to provide a holistic view of port activity.


By seamlessly integrating vessel schedules, port operations, and weather conditions, the platform enables accurate prediction of vessel arrival and departure times.


Reason #2: Supply Chain Disruptions


Supply chain disruptions have recently become a common occurrence in global shipping.

The global supply chain relies heavily on the smooth flow of goods from one location to another but, when disruptions occur, they can cause significant delays to shipping containers.


For example, during the pandemic, widespread lockdowns and restrictions imposed by most countries were a major factor causing supply chain disruptions. Fortunately, these measures are no longer in place today.


However, when companies are forced to shut down production or operate at reduced capacity, it creates a domino effect throughout the supply chain that is still being felt today.

For months, factories were unable to produce at full capacity, causing bottlenecks and delays in the provision of products for ocean shipping.


Another factor contributing to supply chain disruptions is the occasional high demand for certain products.


As consumer demand fluctuates and skyrockets due to seasonal events such as Christmas or certain trends, shippers and carriers come under pressure to cope with the increased volume.

In addition, trade tensions between countries can disrupt supply chains. Changes in trade policy or tariffs can affect import and export flows and create uncertainty for shippers.

Natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes can also severely impact supply chains by damaging infrastructure and disrupting transport networks.


These unforeseen circumstances make it difficult for shipping companies to manage their operations effectively.


MarineTraffic’s comprehensive geographic information through our AIS API services helps navigate the intricate interplay of these elements, which together influence all facets of global trade.


This valuable feature is seamlessly integrated into our plans and allows users to access detailed geographic data and insights to enhance their maritime operations and decision-making processes.


Reason #3: Labour Shortages


Post-pandemic, many industries faced workforce shortage due to closures, restrictions, and reduced labour participation, including the shipping industry.


Another factor is the change in consumer demand during the pandemic. As online shopping surged, retailers had to adapt quickly.


The sudden increase in e-commerce put additional strain on warehouses and distribution centres, which were already struggling with labour shortages.


In addition, travel restrictions can make it difficult for foreign workers to enter certain regions or return home at the end of their contract.


Many distribution centres rely heavily on migrant workers, who may face obstacles due to visa restrictions or quarantine regulations.


The combination of these factors has led to a reduction in capacity at ports and terminals and longer processing times for cargo handling. The lack of available labour has created bottlenecks throughout the supply chain, leading to delays.


To effectively address this labour shortage, industry players need to explore innovative solutions such as automation technologies that can streamline processes and reduce dependence on human resources.


MarineTraffic offers a valuable solution to reduce port congestion and vessel traffic delays.

Using advanced berth planning techniques, our tool enables precise coordination of vessel arrivals, departures and berth assignments, alleviating congestion by strategically allocating berths based on real-time data.


This efficient allocation minimises idle time, improves berth utilisation, reduces vessel traffic delays, and significantly optimises turnaround times.


Reason #4: Customs Clearance


When goods are transported across international borders, they must go through customs to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

This can often be a time-consuming process, causing delays in getting containers cleared for delivery.


Customs clearance involves various tasks such as checking documents, inspecting goods, paying duties and taxes and obtaining the necessary permits or licences.


Each country has its own rules and procedures, which may differ from one another. The complexity and rigour of these procedures can lead to bottlenecks and delays at ports.

This is especially true for more sensitive sea cargo such as medical goods or perishable products that require special documentation or testing.



They should also keep up to date with any changes to the regulations and requirements applicable to their trade routes.


Some technology solutions can streamline the customs clearance process by automating the submission of paperwork and facilitating communication between the various parties involved.

While customs clearance is an essential part of international trade, it can also contribute significantly to delays in shipping containers.


Shippers need to stay informed of changing regulations and use digital tools for a smoother process.


MarineTraffic contributes to more efficient customs clearance processes.

With accurate real-time forecasts of vessel arrivals and departures and integration of vessel schedules and insights into port operations, port authorities can better predict when vessels will arrive in port.


This allows customs officials to use their resources more efficiently, streamline inspection procedures and ensure timely clearance.


Reason #5: Trade Policy Shifts


Trade policy shifts have become a significant factor contributing to shipping container delays in recent years.


With the ever-changing landscape of global trade, governments around the world are introducing new policies and regulations that can disrupt supply chains and slow down the movement of goods.


One example is the trade tensions between China and the United States, which has led to increased scrutiny at ports and causes delays in customs clearance.

These disruptions affect not only shippers, but also retailers and consumers who rely on timely delivery of goods.


Additionally, Brexit has had a profound impact on trade flows between Europe and the UK.

The introduction of new customs procedures, border controls, and regulatory changes have led to bottlenecks in many European ports and longer transit times for containers.


The war in Ukraine that began last year is now also causing disruptions in the supply chain.

Finally, the various lockdown measures put in place during the pandemic further exacerbated ocean freight delays.


Governments around the world imposed movement restrictions, resulting in reduced staffing levels at ports and increased controls for health security reasons.


MarineTraffic uses real-time data and advanced analytics to make accurate predictions of vessel arrivals and departures.


By precisely coordinating vessel movements and optimizing the allocation of berths, congestion and bottlenecks in ports are reduced, thus reducing delays in container shipping.

This leads to smoother logistics, optimized turnaround times and improved overall operational efficiency. Posted on September 22, 2023


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