A massive accumulation of empty containers at major Chinese ports can now be seen as entirely contrary to last year’s cargo boom.

According to The LoadStar, the shipping season at the end of this year is very quiet.

Alice Tang is a China-Europe land transport planner at ITS Cargo. She described the scene as an increasing mountain of empty containers building at Chinese ports amid weakening demand.

She said: “Empty containers are piling up at ports including Guangzhou, Yantian, and Shekou.”

Tang added: “Some say they are already piling up on roads, while others say 90% of box spaces are occupied.”

The transport planner explained that Chinese trailer drivers used to bring loaded containers to the terminal and pick up empty containers for the next load, but now most of them no longer pick up empty containers because there is no ‘next shipment.’

Tang said the current situation differs from last year’s Covid pandemic-induced cargo boom.

She said: “Last year, forwarders were standing in a queue for the whole night to fight for an empty container, and joking that the containers were probably worth more than their weight in gold.”

Tang said that compared to 2021, the fourth quarter of 2022 was “very quiet.” The freight rates were also very low.

She said: “We’ve been quoted $1,550 per FEU (forty-foot equivalent unit) from Shanghai to Gdansk (Poland), and less than $1,000 per TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) for other China-Europe lanes. Lots of people are coming to ask me whether we have goods to ship.”

Citing the container shipping data provider Linerlytica, The LoadStar said that freight rates from the Far East to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) continue to fall. At the same time, the volume also decreased across all trade lanes.

Another reason for the building of empty containers at China’s ports, according to Alice Tang, is the congestion at European warehouses.

She explained: “For e-commerce goods, unloading is hard as there are limited available slots in EU warehouses. They’re all full, as retailers increased stock earlier in the year because they were afraid of disruptions and delays.”

She said they now cannot sell it because consumers cut their spending on shopping this year.

Tang said the condition might not improve in the first quarter of next year.

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