Poor communication about blank sailings has shippers and forwarders up in arms

THE inconsistencies and tardiness of cancelled sailing announcements by shipping lines around China's Golden Week is causing frustration to both shippers and forwarders

17 September 2019 - 19:00

THE inconsistencies and tardiness of cancelled sailing announcements by shipping lines around China's Golden Week is causing frustration to both shippers and forwarders.

The issue was highlighted by Sea-Intelligence Maritime Consulting, with the analyst taking a dim view of what it considers to be blank sailing gamesmanship by the 2M and Ocean alliances, reported IHS Media.

Latest volume data for routes from Asia to Europe by Container Trades Statistics (CTS) show volumes in July rose by 3.8 per cent year on year, a slight upturn in volume growth that has been falling since March.

To match capacity with slowing demand, a blank sailings programme covering the China holiday period was announced on the Asia-Europe trade four weeks before Golden Week, which Sea-Intelligence said was 'unnecessarily slow and inconsiderate towards customers, and reeks of tactical game theory considerations, with the two largest alliances seemingly waiting for the other to make a move.'

Kuehne + Nagel senior vice president Paolo Montrone said there were serious issues around the managing of capacity by the carriers.

'On the same alliance, different carriers provide their own sailing schedules where the same vessel is sailing on different dates and at different times. Shippers have billions of dollars in inventory planning based on this, and each week we are tasked to plan and execute many thousands of shipments that have to be planned around this,' Mr Montrone was quoted as saying.

Mr Montrone added that the forwarder was applying technology and big data to provide both K+N and its customers with more reliable information while working with carriers to strengthen communication channels.

Asia-Europe shippers also expressed their frustration with the often late notice given to void sailings that are difficult to plan around.

'We do our vessel planning some weeks in advance and sudden changes cause a lot of additional workflow and costs, so I can agree with K+N,' a Europe-based supply chain manager told 'Worse case is a rollover situation, which always kills any supply chain planning and creates a lot of costs.' put the issue to several carriers, and a spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd said blank sailings were purely adjustments to forecast lower demand on a particular trade route.

'If we see demand is going to be lower two months out, then we need to manage our capacity for when the market will be down,' he said.

A spokesman for Maersk Line said the shipping line constantly reviewed its network and tried to plan its capacity early, but that was not always possible.

'When we must blank sailings we always try to provide options for alternative coverage to minimise any impact on our customers' business. We strive to do these changes in a structural way, blanking sailings for a full period and announced in advance rather than ad hoc,' the spokesman said, giving as an example the blanking of the AE2 service from the end of September to mid-November this year and its blanking in the fourth quarter of 2018.

'We do so to provide more stability and predictability for our customers in these periods of lower demand.'

Regarding the sometimes contradictory nature of the sailing cancellation announcements by members of the same alliance, the Maersk spokesman said consistent with competition laws, the vessel sharing agreements were operational in nature, with no commercial coordination among alliance members. This meant each alliance member was responsible for its communication with respective customers and the content of their advisories.

Another problem for shippers and forwarders, beyond the disruption from cancelling the services, was that some of the published blanked schedules by carriers within the alliances were contradictory, according to Sea-Intelligence. The analyst pointed to a lack of advisory information of cancelled sailings on some trades, different weeks given for the same blanked sailings, or incorrectly listed blanked sailings by carriers on the same alliances.

'Considering just how disruptive blank sailings are, and how their use is viewed with great concern by both cargo owners and regulators, there is no excuse for this horrendously poor communication,' the analyst said.


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