ACROSS the shipping industry, empty 40-foot-containers continue to be in extremely limited supply, reports Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide.

Nico Hecker and Christian Halgmann from Hapag-Lloyd’s Container Steering department feel now is more important than ever for everyone at Hapag-Lloyd to work closely together as a result.

The supply of empty containers is a result of the pandemic, which has impacted the shipping economy and industry in a number of ways.

“We are currently seeing a ‘black swan’ and are experiencing the strongest increase in 40′ demand following one of the strongest decreases in demand ever, with both of these happening within just 6 months. Almost 3 out of 4 containers in our 40-foot fleet are currently deployed in Customer Shipments and ares therefore not available for the time being. The containers must be returned to China as quickly as possible to be equipped for an expected strong fourth quarter,” said Mr Hecker.

“Considering this enormous and unprecedented pressure, optimising container utilisation and availability is not a task for one department but a task for the entire company. We all have to exchange ideas and decide which businesses we want to push primarily,” said Mr Hecker.

Fortunately enough for the company, Hapag-Lloyd started planning early.

“We were the first mover in 2020 by placing an order for 91,000 TEU new HL branded containers in January already for production from March to July. In addition, 80,000 TEU were leased in March, even though the expected increase did not yet become apparent in April, as many countries outside Asia went into lockdown. Supported by our leasing partners involved, we have delayed the pick-up of the containers to the 3rd Quarter creating a competitive advantage,” said Mr Halgmann.

“These very containers helped us a lot in the third quarter when it came to buffering the current rush in the market,” says Nico Hecker. With the return of normality, business developed particularly positively in the third quarter. But the ships leaving China are not returning at the same time to the same extent. The leasing market for new and used containers in Asia, Europe, and other demand areas is basically empty,” he added.

“Currently the demand for new containers is exceeding the production capacity by far, resulting in lead times for newly built containers until end of Q1/2021. This applies for own production as well as for leased containers. Fortunately, in September we could secure some leasing volume to be delivered prior Chinese New Year 2021 to support our customers,” said Mr Halgmann.

The situation is demonstrating a clear picture that any shortage of empty equipment is affecting all areas of Hapag-Lloyd greatly.