In one of their very informative interactive opinion pieces, The Strait Times, Singapore’s go-to news portal, presents the problem with the global shipping industry though the story of shipping a bicycle from China. (Click here.)

If you’re hitting a pay wall, you’re missing out on the interactive story telling but essentially this is the crux of the matter.

Shipping from Singapore – before and after COVID 19

One of the newspaper’s reporters tracked the progress of a bike being shipped from China to Singapore BEFORE and AFTER the pandemic.

Before COVID 19, the bicycle is shipped from the manufacturer in Wenzhou to a warehouse near Ningbo.

There, it is loaded into a container set for Singapore.

Once loaded on the ship, it will take 9 days for the container & bicycle to reach Singapore.

The situation changes dramatically after COVID.

Because of a shipping backlog at Ningbo, the bicycle & container have to make a 4 day trip to Shenzhen – there, it has to wait an additional 10 days before space is found on a container ship.

When that container ship departs Shenzhen, it will make a number of stops at many other ports keeping it at sea for an additional 19 days.

Almost a month longer shipping from Singapore during the pandemic

By day 36 the ship lands in Singapore, taking 48 hours to clear customs, the ‘happy’ customer takes receipt of the bike the following day.

Before Pandemic – 9 days.

After pandemic – 40 days.

It’s about more than just the pandemic and for well over a year the global supply chain has buckled under the stress and strain of lockdowns, container shortages, labour disruptions, weather and human error.

Throw in the increased demand in online shopping and the resulting carnage has left multiple cargo ships stranded in an unprecedented holding pattern at the major ports throughout the world.

The excellent piece in The Strait Time includes satellite imagery to compare the picture from 2019 and 2021.

For example, in LA in 2019 there were 40 ships anchored of the coast – at the corresponding time in 2021 there were 88.

(For this context, some of these ships can carry as many as 13,000 containers.) In Hong Kong the trend is similar with 37 container ships waiting off the coast in 2019 compared to 50 in 2021.

In Singapore the difference was from 162 in 2019 and an additional 50 give or take in 2021.

*Did I mention the cost of shipping that bicycle?

Costs of shipping from China to Singapore doubled in the course of 24 months and the cost of further legs from Singapore to say, the USA, approximately trebled.

The fact is that we have endured the perfect storm over the last 24 months.

Manufacturing lockdowns preceded by reduced shipping capacity in tandem with a surge in demand followed by a reopening of factories hampered by a shortage of raw materials.

Let’s not forget the traffic jam in the Suez Canal which turned the 193km canal into a marina for over 350 ships.

Predictably, North America has been hardest hit but it will also be children across Europe and the UK that will miss out on those items from Santa’s shopping list.

That’s the story so far though it is suggested that the next chapter will come after Christmas when demand falls after a tsunami of seasonal buying.

We shall see.

TCB Group specialises in shipping cargo from Singapore to anywhere in the world through hubs in Singapore, Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool. To find out how we can add value to your supply chain, please email [email protected] or call +44 28 9560 8444.