This scenario affects the efficiency and speed of shipping worldwide.
The Suez Canal, a crucial maritime route connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, has been facing significant challenges since mid-November due to attacks by Houthi rebels from Yemen, backed by Iran. This has led to increased maritime transportation costs, with major container companies diverting their vessels around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, adding almost two weeks to the duration of voyages.
According to a Project44 report, the Suez Canal has experienced a drastic decline in traffic, averaging only five vessels per day, compared to the usual double-digit daily volume. The report reveals that 211 vessels have been diverted, and another 10 are adrift. Ships attempting to pass through the canal are encountering significant delays ranging from seven to twenty days, significantly impacting global maritime efficiency and speed.
Amid the challenges facing the freight transportation industry, there is uncertainty about how to handle movements, whether opting to transport them through Operation Guardian of Prosperity or diverting them around the Cape of Good Hope. Each choice comes with its own implications, adding complexity to decision-making in this situation.
According to expert economists, delays may lead to congestion at U.S. ports, although a notable increase has not been observed along the new routes. However, there is suspicion of potential secondary effects on internal transportation, including port congestion, due to drought conditions along the Panama Canal. Possible delays in both canals threaten to choke global maritime transport and, consequently, truck freight.
Interruptions and delays in maritime transportation can impact other operations due to fixed scheduling windows for shippers. Some container shipments from Asia, typically transiting the Suez Canal to the East Coast, may be diverted to West Coast ports and then transported to the East Coast by rail or truck. However, cargo owners opting for this to avoid canal-related delays should be prepared for increased costs in the overland route.
Economists have stated that the current situation does not provide a completely accurate picture of the impact on inflation and global markets. Most transportation costs are based on contractual rates, agreed upon for periods of one year or more, and are considerably less volatile than spot rates, reflecting the cost of shipping a container on the next available voyage.
Despite recent increases in spot freight rates, experts indicate that they are still far from having a considerable macroeconomic impact. Furthermore, supply chains have improved in security after disruptions caused by the pandemic, with companies strengthening reserves and reconsidering supply chain strategies.
Reports indicate that the real risk lies in the potential for a significant escalation in the Middle East, which could lead to a disruption in energy supply. This concern was reflected in a brief rise in oil prices earlier in the year when Iran rejected calls to end support for Houthi attacks. However, analysts argue that the likelihood of significant Iranian interference in global supply chains is relatively low.
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