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May 10, 2024

Ports Under Pressure: Surge in Congestion Across China and Southeast Asia 

The escalating port congestion in key Asian hubs, including China and Southeast Asia, presents unprecedented challenges. This situation is significantly driven by seasonal spikes in cargo volumes, notably around the Labour Day holiday, and is exacerbated by geopolitical disruptions such as the Red Sea crisis. 

Understanding the Core Issue: Increased Port Congestion 

Key Asian ports, such as Ningbo, Singapore, and Jebel Ali, are experiencing severe delays. For instance, the berthing delays at Port Klang and Singapore have extended to two to three days, and Jebel Ali has seen delays of up to six days—a stark contrast to their usual performance of berthing on arrival or half-day delays under normal circumstances. This congestion significantly disrupts the flow of goods, affecting global supply chains deeply. 

Causes of the Congestion 

Several specific factors contribute to the current port congestion: 

Seasonal Traffic Increases: Cargo volumes typically swell around the Labour Day holiday. This year, the volume was significantly higher, contributing to the congestion. 

Geopolitical Disruptions: The ongoing crisis in the Red Sea has led to rerouting and bunching of vessels, compounding the congestion at transshipment hubs like Singapore and Jebel Ali. 

Container Shortages: There are acute shortages of both 20-foot and 40-foot containers at major ports, with specific deficits noted at Ningbo. This shortage is partly due to delays in the return of empty containers from Western ports. 

Weather Conditions: Unexpected rainfall in Dubai has notably exacerbated delays, with Jebel Ali T1 and T2 experiencing additional disruptions. Such weather-related issues not only prolong the docking and handling times but also complicate the scheduling and routing of ships, further intensifying the congestion at ports. 

Impact on Shippers & Global Supply Chains 

The specific impacts of the current port congestion are far-reaching and quantifiable: 

Freight Rates Surge: Freight rates have seen notable increases. For example, North Asia-to-North America rates escalated to $3,500 per FEU for the East Coast and $2,900 per FEU for the West Coast, marking a significant week-on-week increase. 

Extended Delivery Times: The delays have caused a domino effect, with extended delivery times now commonplace across global supply chains. For instance, ships are reporting up to a week’s delay in arrival times, significantly impacting downstream operations and inventory levels. 

Economic Impact: The S&P Global Commodity Insights data showed that the Platts Container Rate Index stood at $2,034.73/FEU on April 26, up nearly 15.60% from the start of the month, illustrating the economic pressures exerted by port congestion. 

Strategies for Shippers to Navigate the Port Congestion Crisis  

Here are the steps shippers can take to address the escalating port congestion in key Asian hubs:  

Diversify Supply Chain Routes: To mitigate the risk of disruptions, companies should explore alternative routes and ports, reducing dependence on heavily congested nodes.  

Enhance Collaborative Practices: Improved data sharing and operational coordination between shippers, port operators, and logistics providers can help in anticipating and managing disruptions more effectively.  

Develop Flexible Contingency Plans: Detailed and dynamic contingency planning is essential to respond swiftly to ongoing changes. This involves having backup plans that include different transportation modes and routes.  

Leverage Digital Technologies: Adopting advanced digital and automated technologies can help ports enhance their capability to handle increased cargo volumes and speed up cargo handling. 


The detailed examination of the current port congestion crisis in Asia reveals significant vulnerabilities in global supply chains but also presents an opportunity for strategic improvements. By implementing robust planning, investing in infrastructure, and fostering collaboration, we can mitigate the effects of such disruptions and strengthen our logistics operations for future challenges. 

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