For transatlantic freight forwarders like I.C.E. Transport, it's been interesting to see the sharp contrast in ocean freight prices and congestion issues between Transpacific and Transatlantic freight.
It's really a tale of two oceans.
According to Drewry Shipping Consultants, the rate for Shanghai-to-LA has fallen 59% since a year ago, while Rotterdam-to-NY has risen 9%. Today, it's more expensive to move spot cargo westbound across the Atlantic than to move cargo eastbound from Asia to the West Coast, despite the eastbound journey being almost twice as long.
While container rates are currently moving in different directions for these two lanes, recent data from the Freightos Baltic Freight Index showed that both its Europe-to-East Coast index and its Asia-to-West Coast index were both exactly 4.9x higher than three years ago.
As for port congestion, the West Coast vessel backlogs that made global headlines earlier in the year have receded while port congestion in New York/New Jersey, Savannah, Charleston and Houston are adding days and even weeks to door-to-door transit times.
Much of the congestion at East Coast ports is due to empty containers. Export vessels are overbooked because the lines are putting empties on the vessel to relieve them of this cost burden. On the import side, due to high volumes and limited chassis availability, truckers often can't pick up imports in a timely manner, leading to demurrage charges.
Savvy transatlantic freight forwarders can help choose the East Coast ports that are easiest to get in and out of. This can change weekly.
Things to watch with transatlantic shipping
Other than price, here are a few things that transatlantic shippers should be aware of to improve planning efforts with their transatlantic freight forwarding partners:
- Shippers who move cargo to and from the UK should monitor the labor strife at the UK's largest port at Felixstowe. Management has implemented a pay increase for workers , but it's less than what the union asked for and the union is considering its options.
- On September 1, the Port of LA/Long Beach began regarding Saturdays and Sundays as work days, therefore counting against free time allowances. That policy has come to the East Coast with Maher Terminal in NY/NJ doing the same. If this policy expands, it can lead to sharp increases in demurrage charges for transatlantic cargo.
- Port congestion at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports will continue, so expect delays.
Work with your transatlantic freight forwarder to mitigate problems
Shipping challenges that have plagued Transpacific lanes for years have come to the East Coast. Here are a few ways to mitigate issues and keep your freight moving on time at a reasonable rate:
- Work with your transatlantic freight forwarder to shop for the best rate. There are sharp price discrepancies among transatlantic carriers. Booking with carriers that offer the cheapest rates can preserve your profit, but it's hard to get space. Book as early as you can – although carriers won't accept bookings more than 6 weeks out.
- Expect current transatlantic ocean rates to continue for the balance of the year. Transatlantic freight does not typically see a significant peak season that could push up rates. Even for Transpacific ocean freight, the 2022 peak season is looking more like a valley.
- Make sure you are aligned with a transatlantic freight forwarder that proactively communicates changes. Carriers continue to announce changes with little or no notice. It’s essential to be on top of these changes to accurately assess delivery times. If you are a smaller shipper, it can be hard to get this kind of attention from your freight forwarder. Check out our Guide to International Shipping for Small Businesses.
If you are looking for a transatlantic freight forwarder to help you navigate this increasingly challenging shipping lane, consider I.C.E. Transport. The company was a pioneer in the U.S.–Poland shipping lane and since has expanded to offer full international shipping services between the U.S. and all of Eastern and Western Europe. Contact I.C.E. today to start a conversation.