At this moment Europe has an acute shortage of empty reefer containers.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis (February), the European market suffered from a high shortage of (reefer) containers because of the local lockdowns in Far East. With containers and vessels blocked at terminals, shipping lines could not reposition their equipment back to Europe.
As soon as the Far East economies were reopened after lockdown (April), containers could be repositioned back to Europe. This has led to a more balanced (reefer) equipment availability in Europe since July.
Europe was under lockdown from March and reopened again in June. During lockdown, importers reduced their imports and decreased stock levels to a minimum.

With the reopening of the economies the consumption increased, importers are restocking their warehouses again. This is the the situation in Europe and also in the regions that had similar timing such as the USA and BRAZIL. This has led to a spike in worldwide exports from the Far East as from August.

The shipping line’s strategy during the worldwide COVID-19 crisis was to cut capacity by installing blank sailings in order to balance offer and demand and avoid making operational costs without sufficient revenue. Briefly, vessels only sail with sufficient containers on board.
Economically this strategy has led to increasing sea freight levels and shipping lines making profit again.

Operationally this strategy has led to vessels and containers being stuck all over the world. The different timing of the COVID-19 crisis between Far East and the rest of the world is the main driver of the current imbalanced, disrupted equipment situation.

At this moment:

  1. Far East need dry containers to export, but dry containers are stuck all over the world.
  2. Europe need empty reefer containers from Far East, but vessels from Far East are full with dry containers.
  3. Shipping lines react and reposition empty reefers from Far East by taking other routes (via Australia or South Africa) with longer transit time causing the current gap and shortage of reefer equipment in Europe.
  4. At the same time they are pushing capacity (cancelling blank sailings) in the market from Far East to evacuate the dry containers.

The acute shortage of empty reefer containers results in shipping lines introducing Peak Season Surcharges as from 01/10/2020.

The ‘going East’ trade (FAR & MIDDLE EAST) is impacted the most as there are no reefer imports from both regions to Europe only empty repositioning. The other trades (LATAM, PACIFIC, US&CAN, SAF, …) are less impacted because from these regions there are reefer imports (fruit) that can be reused for exports.

Your account manager will give you the detailed information with the pricelist for October and update the capacity per region and carrier. When situation will recover again depends on the length of the ‘repositioning gap’ and demand of reefer exports.
For example, China didn’t recover yet from the local swine fever end of last year and is still importing high volumes from Europe.