Container Shipping Chaos: Record-Breaking Rates On The Horizon?


  • A major shift occurred in May 2024, with freight rates rising rapidly due to limited capacity and unexpectedly high demand.
  • Spot rates, prices for individual shipments, are skyrocketing, with some carriers reportedly requesting over $10,000 per FEU (Forty-Foot Equivalent Unit).

Causes of the Disruption

  • Two main factors are contributing to the problem:
    • Port congestion: Key Asian ports have experienced worsening congestion for months, leading to significant capacity removal as vessels wait for berths. Delays of up to a week in Singapore highlight the severity of the issue.
    • Unexpected demand surge: Demand for shipping from Asia to Europe and North America has seen a sudden, unforeseen rise. While concrete data is still emerging, preliminary indications suggest a significant increase.

Similar Dynamics to Pandemic

The current situation mirrors elements of the pandemic disruptions:

  • Extremely low idle fleet capacity (0.6%), similar to the pandemic peak.
  • Rapidly rising charter rates for vessels.
  • Charter fixture lengths approaching two years, indicating long-term demand expectations.

Market Reactions

  • Niche carriers are entering deep-sea services with smaller vessels to address the capacity shortage.
  • Some freight forwarders are chartering their own ships to manage Pacific routes.

Potential for Record Rates

Lessons learned from the pandemic suggest that spot rates can potentially climb even higher than the previous records if the current crisis persists. Factors like persistent demand, unresolved port congestion, and the ongoing Red Sea crisis could all contribute to this scenario.

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Source: Baltic Exchange