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How Blank Sailings Impact the Shipping Industry


At the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic the world saw a major decrease in China’s economy. For more than six weeks, from January to March 2020, China’s GDP fell 6.8 percent and its exports fell 11.4 percent. This downturn was felt across the globe as China has been the one of the world’s largest manufacturers since 2009. The decline in shipping volume at the beginning of 2020 forced ocean carriers to reduce their capacity, by way of blank sailings.

According to industry news, there were over 400 blank sailings reported by container shipping lines through April 2020. Today, ocean carriers continue to utilize blank sailings as they try to match volume with capacity. Equipment shortages, mainly shipping containers, is one of the supply chain troubles attributed to blank sailings as empty containers aren’t being relocated as efficiently as they normally are when ocean carriers stick to their normal sailing schedules.


What are Blank Sailings and How the Industry has been Affected?

Blank sailings are sailing schedules that have been canceled due to changes that result in a vessel skipping certain ports or their entire planned route. Blank sailings often occur due to bad weather, the need for vessel repairs, or when demand for shipping space is lower, such as times directly following holidays like Christmas. In the beginning of the pandemic, many carriers were forced to cancel scheduled sailings due to shippers canceling large amounts of production orders. However, demand in the U.S. skyrocketed in mid-2020 but carriers were skeptical that the boom would last so they increased capacity at a much slower pace than normal.

In the recent months we’ve seen a surge of imports into the U.S. as retailers stocked up for the holiday season. This surge has left China and the Far East in desperate need for empty containers and U.S. exporters frustrated as carriers are refusing their cargo in order to take back empty containers for a much higher price. Ron Brown, the maritime marketing and commodities representative at the port in Oakland California recently addressed the issues U.S. exporters, namely agriculture exporters, are facing. “With the recent surge of import cargo along the West Coast to make up for earlier blank sailings, our agriculture exporters are seeing changes in sailing schedules, and in some cases canceled bookings as carriers are repositioning containers to return to Asia.”

How Blank Sailings Impact Truckers

Truckers often find themselves left in the lurch as a result of complications over which they have no control and blank sailings are one example of just that. With the massive increase in blank sailings this year, many truckers have found themselves dealing with “moving target” pickup and delivery schedules as truckers must adapt to complications resulted from blank sailings that occur with little forewarning.

These changing schedules often result in the trucking industry bearing the cost of delays as they have to schedule their own pickups and drop-offs in advance with little to no visibility into vessel availability. This increase in uncertainty negatively impacts the ability for truckers to make appointments for the delivery or receipt of containers at marine terminals and often results in costly delays.

While no freight forwarder can control blank sailings, ClearFreight stays on top of carriers’ sailing schedules and can offer the next best option. Contact one of our logistic experts today to discuss your supply chain needs.

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