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A recent survey of ocean carriers’ on-time performance by Drewry Shipping Consultants showed that although shippers enjoyed lower freight rates last year, schedules were less reliable.

According to schedule reliability got worse, not better, toward the end of 2009 — a bitter development for shippers who enjoyed low freight rates last year, but are being stung by significant rate hikes in 2010 without an apparent elevation in industry-wide service quality.

On-time performance in the last quarter of 2009 significantly worsened from the first half of the year. From a high of nearly 68% in the second quarter of 2009, carriers were on time only 53% of the time in the last quarter, the report says, citing research by London-based Drewry.

“There are many potential explanations for the deterioration in on-time arrivals at the end of 2009. Carriers, as they began slowing their loops, added ports to the rotations on those loops. More stops equals more chances for delays. Inclement fall and winter weather could be contributing factors, as could potential disruptions from the addition or suspension of new services,” the report says.

Drewry’s survey, Schedule Reliability Insight, tracks the on-time performance of about 1,600 ships in 10 ports worldwide and defines “on-time” as arriving on the scheduled day or one day early. Yet some would argue it’s more accurate to judge schedule reliability by hours, not days.

“It’s an appalling picture when 60% is the best in our industry when it comes to on-time reliability,” Eivind Kolding chief executive of Maersk Line was quoted as saying at a major shipping conference in March. “We need to get to the same state as the parcel industry, which has 90%-plus on-time,” according to Kolding.

Drewry’s historical on-time data shows that, with the exception of the second quarter of 2009, industry-wide on-time performance has stayed within a band between 45% and 60% since the end of 2005. And the second quarter 2009 performance can likely be explained by the fact that demand was so low and services so scaled back that ships couldn’t help but be on time more often.

Shipping industry officials quoted in the report say that poor schedule reliability is likely to continue this year due to factors such as congestion (demand is anticipated to recover),  added port calls.

Ships surveyed by Drewry the past 15 quarters were an average of 1.17 days late between Asia and Europe and 0.81 days late between Asia and North America.

Ironically, the shortest lane, the transatlantic, has suffered the worst, with ships an average of 1.37 days late, the report adds.

The report also cites inconsistencies in the measurement used to decide what on-time means for the industry.

Another trade publication, Logistics Management (LM) has its own measurement (subjective measurement).

According to the report, an August 2009 LM measure found that among global carriers, “K” Line, Hamburg Süd and OOCL had the best on-time performances. According to Drewry, those lines finished 17th, ninth, and 12th, respectively in the last quarter of 2009.


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