The last two years have seen the world of international relocation in upheaval. This was caused primarily by the domino effect of the global lockdowns due to the pandemic that gripped the world .
As the world plunged into lockdown the restrictions placed on the normal movements and behaviours of people changed consumption patterns dramatically. Many factories were temporarily closed and with almost 90% of the global trade being transported by ship, shipping was drastically reduced, halting import and export industries .
The hardest hit were traders in Asia who could not collect empty freight containers from the US, for example, with the number of operational ships drastically slashed.
Then as Asia started to recover from the pandemic and shipping operations resumed more goods were exported to Europe and North America using the available containers. However, with the rest of the world still under lockdowns, the empty containers were not returned fast enough. Those containers started piling up at various ports, cargo depots and inland transport lines due to workforce disruptions.
With the limited workforce, the shipping container backlog could not be cleared fast enough. At the start of this year, in North America alone, only 40% of usual number containers were exported. This means that 60% of containers are stuck somewhere accumulating. This growing problem is alarming because normal trade between China and the US involves about 900,000 twenty-foot containers per month .
Additionally, any Covid cases at any of the major ports or any of the other numerous steps in the moving process, causes further delays which may take months to clear. The lockdowns tightened customs in various countries making import and export trade more difficult and delayed. The pandemic also caused massive change in demands for some goods like electronics, office supplies, PPE supplies, etc which caused further challenges for shipping companies.
To add to this unstable situation, new containers are being produced, but at a very slow rate. Thus, more old containers are scrapped than new ones manufactured and until production can be ramped up, the imbalance will remain.
For all those reasons, there is no surprise that container shipping rates have skyrocketed. Prices between South East Asia and the US have shot up from about $2,000 up $4,500 per 40ft container. The demand for new containers has driven up the price which has a knock-on effect on the price for leasing containers.
Moving companies reported a significant increase in interest in their services after the pandemic struck. People are keen to relocate for multiple reasons and relocation companies are struggling to keep up with demand .
According to a UK based removals company, demand for shipping in the UK has exceeded available capacity by over 200%, thereby placing a huge burden on capacity on ships, loading and unloading at the ports and limited available containers.
Previously, a container was booked in as little as a week but now it takes between 6-8 weeks to obtain an available space. It is even possible for the booking to be completely rejected because of the backlog or sudden changes to the shipping route .
To compensate for the shortage of shipping containers some companies were offering to pack up household items and store them until containers became available. However, available storage facilities soon became scarce, too. Ports usually have space to store containers for a short time while waiting for a ship’s arrival/departure but the strain on the industry has rendered the ports at full capacity triggering extra charges.
Another factor contributing to the challenges of relocation companies is the scarcity of mover availability and workforce shortages. With demand at an all time high, there is insufficient staff to fulfil orders .
The heavy goods vehicles (HGV) required to transport the household goods from the residence to the port or warehouse are a major part of the removals infrastructure and they experience strain mostly due to driver shortages. In the UK for instance, there is an estimated 100K shortage of HGV drivers. Other countries like the US are in similar situations.
In the current climate there are common service failures that may occur at the last minute, like: delays in sailing dates, rejection of bookings due to schedule changes, unavailable HGV, no port capacity, unexpected route changes, congestion delays, etc .
As a consequence, increased demand for shipping and congestion has caused price hikes, unexpected congestion or services surcharges, and sudden changes to schedules. These extra and unexpected costs to the removal companies are passed on to the end customer .
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