Stability and predictability in logistics fading into past

2022/08/19 at 11:38 AM

Stabilisation in the multimodal transport market will not be achieved quickly. We have to prepare for the fact that the world of logistics has changed irretrievably, especially stability and predictability are fading into the past, says Przemysław Komar, director for sea freight at Rohlig Suus Logistics.

Przemysław Komar, director for sea freight at Rohlig Suus Logistics

What has changed in the first half of the current year, after the two difficult years of the pandemic (2020-2021), in the intermodal transport market?

The market situation was different than in the previous two years, which does not mean that it was easier. Simply, other things have become a challenge.

Which ones?

Although sea transport has finally dealt with the shortage of empty containers and space on ships, the congestion in ports has grown significantly. It already appeared last year in the ports of the United States, Australia or in the Far East but this problem has also moved this year, for instance, to Europe. We experience it directly because loaded containers wait for a long time on ships to enter Western European ports.

How long?

It depends. This period, however, is no longer counted in days but in weeks. Something new has also happened in logistics – there is a lack of predictability today. I often hear from customers and suppliers that they lack confidence – not only on the demand side, which is a market phenomenon but also on the supply side of services. We do not know whether the container will arrive late or not.

It is not enough even to secure some of the customers that calculate delays for several days into the business. This will consume, for example, the delay of the container at the port of loading or the congestion at the transhipment port in the Far East, and then the delay of the ship and its waiting for unloading in the ports of Western Europe are added. Moreover, there are also problems with the timeliness of land transport because there are no drivers and the railways have problems with the rapid transport of coal or goods from and to Ukraine.

Illustrative picture. Multimodal logistics, source: Rohlig Suus Logistics

Is there a chance that these problems will be resolved by the end of this year?

It is very difficult to answer this question. To my mind, stabilisation will not be achieved by the end of December. We live in a world where we have war abroad and the danger of escalation in other parts of the world is increasing. The war in Ukraine has added new uncertainties. When some shipping companies decided not to go to the ports of the Russian aggressor, some of the containers addressed to Russia were already on board, and they had to be unloaded in other ports. Most often, these were the transhipment ports of the North Sea. These containers are now very difficult to integrate into the logistics chain, so congestion at port terminals has intensified. We have to prepare for the fact that the world of logistics has changed over many years. The pace of changes in the market, extraordinary and unusual events, which are so numerous and so frequent that the world of stability is fading into the past.

Have these new problems exposed the inefficiency of the rail infrastructure, not only in Poland but e.g. in Germany?

I do not think so. Before the war in Ukraine, the infrastructure was generally functioning well. Of course, where track work was underway, there were limitations and the delivery schedule was changing. However, the movement of containers between ports and inland terminals was fairly fluid and predictable. On the other hand, this year’s disruptions in land transport, directly and indirectly, resulted from the war. They are related to certain government decisions that are otherwise correct when it comes to logistic aid to Ukraine. The issue of coal transport from the Polish ports seems to be more controversial. Priority in its transport has been given to companies with state-owned capital – this is done at the expense of the stability of intermodal container transport. As a result, our suppliers do not know whether they will be able to ship two, five or maybe only one container train to and from the port next week.

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