What is Blank Sailing?
Blank sailing is the act of skipping a scheduled stop at a port, or canceling the voyage entirely. The decision is typically made by the carriers to effectively manage vessel capacity, respond to changes in cargo demand, optimize the global shipping network, or reduce unnecessary costs.
Understanding Blank Sailing
When shipping lines and carriers announce a blank sailing event, it is usually the result of a port being too crowded, or when cargo handling and clearance are especially slow. Carriers and shipping lines work on a schedule, which includes dates for arriving at their destination ports. There are usually multiple ports along the way and each port has set time slots for ships to arrive, unload their cargo, and take on new containers.
Adhering to these schedules is challenging. Delays at one port, or at sea, can create a domino effect on the remainder of the journey. When shipping companies and carriers see that they are behind schedule, they may announce a blank sailing plan to help them get back on schedule and reach the other ports, and their final destination, on time.
Common Reasons Blank Sailing Occurs
There are a number of different reasons a carrier or shipping company may be forced to announce blank sailing. In addition to ports being congested, ships may skip a port due to any of the following scenarios:
- Port strikes: when local port workers are involved in a labor dispute or a strike, the carrier might decide to skip the port to avoid delays.
- Lack of demand: if there is not enough demand for cargo to be shipped to a particular port, shipping lines may choose to skip that port. This can happen during the off-season, or when there are economic problems in the region.
- Mechanical problems: in an attempt to get back on schedule and meet the scheduled ETA, a ship that was delayed due to mechanical issues might avoid certain ports and take a more direct route to its final destination.
- Bad weather: tropical storms and hurricanes can cause carriers to change their route to avoid the affected region.
The Impact of Blank Sailing
While blank sailing enables ships to arrive at their final destination on time, they play havoc with the containers that were supposed to be offloaded or loaded at the port that was skipped.
Leaving shipments on the vessel and taking them to the next port, or leaving shipments stranded at the port, can lead to shipping delays, storage costs, and additional fees. Rollovers, which occur when containers are left at the pickup port until the next vessel with the same destination arrives, might impact freight rates and will increase the cost of container shipping for users due to demurrage and detention charges.
When blank sailing occurs, the carrier will typically reschedule the shipment for the next available carrier. This creates a significant impact on the logistics for the buyer. Determining who is responsible for paying these additional costs will depend on which Incoterm is used in the shipping contract.
To navigate these challenges effectively, buyers should stay in close communication with the carrier and use an ocean freight visibility platform, ensuring they receive real-time updates on the status of their shipments. Additionally, having a contingency transportation plan in place can help mitigate the impact of blank sailings and maintain the reliability of the supply chain.
How Demurrage and Detention Relate to Blank Sailings
Blank sailings result in a temporary reduction in available containers and space on the ship. Consequently, when the ship eventually arrives at the destination port after blank sailing, there can be a higher demand for unloading and returning empty containers.
This increased demand can lead to delays in retrieving and returning containers, causing consignees to exceed the allowed free time for both unloading (demurrage) and returning the container (detention). As a result, consignees may face additional charges for going beyond the free time for unloading and detention, due to the disruptions caused by blank sailing.
Filled containers are also affected by these delays. Terminal operators sometimes reduce their work shifts at ports, due to lower imports during blank sailing. This makes it challenging to adjust the pickup schedule, leaving containers stranded at ports for longer periods and consuming their allotted free days. Under these conditions, demurrage and detention charges also come into play, and they can accumulate up to as much as 20-times the value of the container itself.
How an AI Platform Can Help Prepare for Blank Sailing
While blank sailing can’t be avoided, having real-time information as to when they will likely occur and the available options can save companies time and money. Here are some of the advantages of using Maritime AI™:
- Provide visibility into shipping schedules: using predictive intelligence, AI can track the movement of vessels and provide real-time updates on shipping schedules. This can help consumers to see if their shipments are affected by blank sailing and to make alternative arrangements if necessary.
- Identify alternative routing options: if blank sailing is announced, AI can help consumers identify alternative routing options. This helps minimize the impact of blank sailing on the delivery time and cost of the shipment.
- Provide insights into the shipping market: help personnel understand the factors that are driving blank sailing, such as weather conditions, port congestions, and container capacity. This ensures that the right people can make informed decisions about their shipping arrangements.