The Current State of the Shipping Container Shortage

Although we may be biased in favour of the sturdy, durable shipping container, we cannot deny that the current shortage crisis is a pressing concern.

We have touched on the who, what, where and when behind the global shipping container crisis, how the shortage is crippling global trade, and previous predictions for a resolution. So, we thought it was time for an update.

Shipping containers are simple but mighty entities. As large steel boxes with the potential to carry and transport massive amounts of cargo within a seamless system, they have proven to be an undeniably beneficial invention to society.

Historically, these containers have flown under the radar for being so self-efficient in such a highly complex network. However, their efficiency has been put to a test thanks to unprecedented external disruptions.

Summary of the Situation so Far

With endless internal and external pressures, industries understandably go through ebbs and flows. However, we’re currently seeing a deep and enduring ebb within the shipping container industry and the additional industries it negotiates with.

While the global shipping container shortage has been considered a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since turned into an industry-wide issue lasting a lot longer than anticipated.

The issue began due to the pandemic related lockdowns, shutdowns, and restrictions that significantly disrupted the global transport of freight and consumer demand. This disruption meant that the accessibility of shipping containers drastically decreased, and the industry began to struggle to function as intended.

Blame cannot be put solely on one industry or stakeholder. Rather, on the overarching effects the pandemic has had on our way of life. While placing blame is not the intent, not pinpointing a specific cause makes it difficult to resolve the issue.

Although the issue is called the ‘shipping container shortage crisis’, we’re not exactly low on containers. Instead, widespread manufacturing delays and bottlenecks have meant there aren’t enough containers in the right place at the right time. There have also been too many containers at terminals, preventing more cargo from arriving and unloading in time.

In our most recent update, we observed that industry professionals, consumers, suppliers, and retailers are extremely concerned about this crisis and the turmoil that will continue to follow. However, because each stakeholder is being affected differently and requires different responses from the container industry going forward, many approaches have been established slightly contradictory to one another.

Summary of the Situation so Far

So what is happening now?

The crisis seems to be at a standstill; solutions are up in the air, and stakeholders are left scratching their heads.

Bottlenecks are slowly easing in some areas around the globe, but the system will not return to its optimal standardised state until all issues are resolved. Essentially, supply chains remain fragile with the concern for continued import surges and shortfalls.

Alternative routes

Identifying that resolving this issue doesn’t necessarily mean returning to ‘normal’, alternatives are being suggested as either a temporary solution or a new direction for the industry altogether.

Specifically, countries such as the US have implemented short, medium and long term policies to improve the flow of goods from ports to distribution facilities and delivery.

On a wider scale, stakeholders of the shipping container industry have tried to divert shipments to alternative ports of entry, alternative transport modes, and alternative providers. However, this is continuing to be unsuccessful.

This repeated defeat of alternative routes and policies highlights the need for contingency plans. The emphasis on emergency backups is a way of dealing with the issue at hand while preparing for a potential resurgence in the crisis.

Alternative routes

Supply chain issues

As shipping containers were created to standardise trade and make the shipping of goods more efficient, they are undeniably connected to global trade and the supply chain.

Consequently, this close connection means that any issues within these entities likely have detrimental effects on one another.

This was particularly evident in the run-up to Christmas in 2021, where there was considerable anxiety about shortages of food and gifts. Unfortunately, this concern was warranted, and businesses and consumers all fell under the detrimental effects of extended shipping periods.

While it is predicted that shipping conditions could return to normal by the middle of this year, this statement does not speak on behalf of the supply chain or trade industry. Although shipping periods may return to normal, container prices, surcharges and freight rates are predicted to remain high.

While relentless demand and supply crunch has a lot to do with this, the supply chain system is extremely complex and depends on the instinctively unpredictable consumer.

Environmental concerns

Adding to the endless list of consequences resulting from the global container shortage are environmental implications.

The environmental impact of logistics and supply chain modes are becoming more widely understood and higher on the global agenda. This includes the freight industry working to meet emission targets and develop sustainable supply chain practices.

However, the disruptions continuing to face the shipping container industry have placed additional disruptions in lowering CO2 emissions. Understandably, this is causing great concern among environmental groups and stakeholders.

Despite this concern, there is also a more optimistic approach being taken by some. This being, these disruptions could spark sustainable changes in the industry and accelerate the introduction of environmentally friendly practices.

Environmental concerns

What’s to Come?

The pandemics' multitude of disruptions has proven the detriment of such a standardised process. While standardising shipping containers as a means of global trade has been effective and coherent until now, the lack of backup alternatives is putting a major strain on the system.

In summary, the shipping container industry is slowly beginning to see a return to normalcy in container availability and the bottleneck situation. This can be attributed to the increased production of containers and relatively stabilising prices alleviating some of the supply chain constraints.

However, while leaps and bounds in escaping the crisis have been made, it cannot necessarily be said that we’re on the home stretch. Instead, many more adaptations, alterations, and possible overhauls need to be made. This includes investment, technology, and new incentives across all stakeholders within global trade.

Although supply is expected to return to meeting demand this year, the market is likely to remain tight. As this issue is not only affecting the container industry, it cannot be resolved quickly or lightly. As a result, it will take a lot more time before the chaos subsides for all stakeholders involved.

If you’re feeling uncertain amid this chaotic situation, you’re not the only one. For more advice on purchasing and optimising shipping containers during these circumstances, contact Tiger Containers. As specialists in the field, we’re on the front line regarding research and can help you stay up to date.