Shippers will also face the potential addition of peak season surcharges in their contracts with immediate effect, even for those BCOs that were never before subject to those surcharges, Caradonna said.

The peak season for container shipping is typically the August-October window before year-end holidays, but US imports volumes from Asia have hardly eased at all since that period.

“We see the return of the peak season surcharges in full force this year,” Caradonna said. “We believe many BCOs that never paid a peak season surcharge will have a peak season surcharge clause in their contract this year.”

With container spot rates at record levels, smaller- to medium-sized shippers are mitigating their cost risk by increasing their contract volumes this year with non-vessel owning common carriers rather than directly with shipping lines, said John Westwood, senior manager for transportation practice at Chainalytics.

Platts Container Index was assessed at $4,226.32/FEU on Feb. 26, an increase from more than 300% from the same date one year ago.

“I haven’t seen any push for longer term contracts,” Westwood said. “Maybe shorter-term contracts because long term contracts are only favorable to carriers right now.”

Shippers may also seek to procure a greater share of their freight requirements from the spot market if they expect rates to drop from multi-year high levels later this year as equipment shortages ease.

“The spot market is still going to play a very central part,” Caradonna said. “Even if it means getting $50, $100 or $200 below their contract rates, we’re probably going to see a lot more spot activity than we’ve seen before.”