Nearly 25% of the world’s unberthed container vessels are still waiting in China

Windward recently published a blog post that analyzed the number of container vessels waiting to be berthed outside ports across China. We showed how that number has grown in parallel with the expansion of lockdowns in Shenzhen, and later Shanghai. Our data showed that 1-in-5 container vessels globally were waiting outside a congested port, 27.7% of those in China.

An updated, 48-hour snapshot almost two weeks after the previous post shows that the situation in China seems to have eased slightly in terms of the numbers. The situation went from 506 vessels stuck outside Chinese ports to 412 in 12 days, a drop of 18.6%. The China-to-world ratio has not moved nearly as much, as 24.3% of all container vessels waiting outside of ports globally are waiting outside of ports in China

Image 1: 48-hour snapshot of container vessels waiting to be berthed outside Chinese ports.
Image 2: 48-hour snapshot of container vessels waiting to be berthed outside ports globally

When looking at all container vessels waiting outside of ports globally a little closer, it is clear that China has caused a bottleneck. Image 3 below illustrates how traffic spikes have closely corresponded with the lockdowns in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The number of stuck vessels began growing quickly right as Shenzhen, the world’s 4th largest container port by throughput per year, went into lockdown. The number of container vessels waiting outside of ports worldwide peaked the day after Shenzhen announced it was ending the lockdown and then started dropping back to a more average number for that period. 

And when Shanghai announced it was expanding its lockdown to a full quarantine of the entire city on April 5, again we see that more vessels started waiting for ports to berth them, according to our data. This reached nearly the exact same peak as after the Shenzhen lockdown, as officials announced they were easing the lockdown in Shanghai. And here too, the ripple effect was felt until the day after the announcement, followed by a sharp drop in the days after that.

Image 3: Number of container vessels waiting to be berthed globally per day in the past 3 months

China is home to half of the world’s 20 largest container ports by yearly throughput. It should be no surprise that when it goes into lockdown mode, the effects are felt in every corner of the world. The silver lining seems to be that, at least in the case of both recent lockdowns, the recovery from the congestion that builds up globally seems to be quick.

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