Refrigerated Cargo Shippers Encounter Extended Booking Times and Container Shortages Amid Port Congestion - Sobel Network Shipping Co., Inc.

Refrigerated Cargo Shippers Encounter Extended Booking Times and Container Shortages Amid Port Congestion

Refrigerated cargo shippers are experiencing increased booking lead times to secure onboard space, facing similar delays and congestion issues as dry cargo shippers, according to carriers and forwarders.

These challenges are particularly severe for Asian export cargoes. In Brazil, a combination of equipment shortages, congestion, and port projects critically impacts refrigerated import and export shipments.

Despite these difficulties, insurers report no significant rise in claims for spoiled cold chain or perishable products. Peregrine Storrs-Fox, risk management director at London-based cargo insurer Through Transport Mutual Services (UK), stated there is no evidence that current congestion and delays have led to increased reefer cargo losses. He noted that many losses might be absorbed by cargo interests, beneficial cargo owners, or logistics operators due to insurance terms such as deductibles/excesses.

Dubai-based FIBS Logistics highlighted the advance booking needed due to capacity and equipment shortages for reefer exports from Asia. “Around six to nine months ago, we could arrange reefer bookings up to about two weeks before a vessel’s estimated departure,” a spokesperson for FIBS told the Journal of Commerce. “Now, advance booking needs to be made three to four weeks before a vessel’s expected departure.”

Port congestion and delays affect reefer shipments across major trade lanes, from Asia to Europe and the Americas. Vessel delays vary by trade lane and specific services, with trans-Pacific services experiencing one to two-week delays and Asia-Europe services seeing delays of 10 to 14 days, extending to 30 days in some cases. Intra-Asia services face delays of two to three days, especially when calling at Singapore.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong-headquartered OOCL noted, “Similar to dry cargo, reefer cargo has also been affected by vessel delays and port congestion at some ports. However, our reefer cargos are always being monitored. So far, we have not seen any significant issues with them, even perishable goods.”

Hapag-Lloyd reported significant berthing delays at some Asian ports, including up to six days in Brisbane, five days in Singapore, four days in Shanghai, and two days in Qingdao and the Westports terminal at Port Klang, Malaysia. Forwarders mentioned that carriers diverting vessels to Westports to avoid Singapore congestion have exacerbated yard utilization issues.

Reefer shippers also face congestion at some European and Mediterranean ports as carriers develop new transshipment hubs to avoid attacks by Houthi militants in the Red Sea area. Barcelona, in particular, is experiencing volumes beyond its capacity, according to Peter Sand, chief analyst at online benchmarking platform Xeneta.

In Brazil, the challenges are particularly acute, impacting north-south shipments to the US and long-haul cargo to and from Asia. Fabrizio De Paulis, managing director of Brazil forwarder De Paulis Logistics & SCM Eireli, had to cancel a recent reefer cargo booking to the US due to container shortages during Brazil’s fruit export season. These issues were compounded by congestion at transshipment ports in Panama, leading to longer transit times and requiring a change of carrier and port of discharge in the US.

De Paulis noted that current congestion at Asian ports could worsen the situation for South American reefer shippers. Xeneta’s Sand pointed out that after tightening in May, troubles have spread to other trades. “With a record high for dry cargo from the East Coast of South America in April, carriers aren’t prioritizing the repositioning of the reefers needed for South American exports,” he said.

Mauricio Fisch, director of Brazil forwarder Ocean Express, part of the HTFN Global Logistics Network, described the Asia-Brazil trade lane as “very critical,” with severe congestion at ports in southern Brazil. He mentioned that project work at Navegantes has limited operations to one berth, shifting volumes to nearly full-capacity ports Itapoá and Paranaguá.

These delays have prompted CMA CGM to introduce a $150 per container port congestion surcharge from July 1 for cargo, including reefer boxes, exported through Paranaguá to the US East and Gulf coasts and the rest of Latin America. The surcharge will remain until December.