Lockdowns Hinder Operations at Key Chinese Ports

Shipping containers sit stacked next to gantry cranes at the Yantian International Container Terminals in Shenzhen. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

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Congestion in the key Chinese ports of Shenzhen and Hong Kong due to COVID-19 lockdowns has risen to the highest level in five months, posing possible delays to goods heading to the U.S. this summer.

There were approximately 174 vessels anchored or loading off the South China hubs, the largest number since Oct. 21, when the region dealt with the aftermath of Typhoon Kompasu. A queue of ships also is growing at Shanghai.

“Shenzhen is the second-busiest port next to Shanghai, so we will expect to see significant volume shift to the other ports within China,” said Ryan Closser, a director at FourKites, a supply chain information provider. “A couple more weeks of shutdown may not have a huge disruption, but the longer the area is shut down, the more of a ripple effect it will have.”

The delays come as China has imposed the strictest COVID-19 controls since the initial outbreak two years ago. Technology hub Shenzhen is lifting a weeklong lockdown after ordering factories to shutter and truckers to participate in mass testing for the virus.

Infections in Shanghai remain on the rise, spurring concern that measures to combat the virus could affect the transport of goods to the world’s biggest port. Congestion and longer waiting times have been observed at Shenzhen’s Yantian and Shekou container terminals as of March 22, shipping carrier CMA CGM SA said in an advisory to customers.

The lockdowns have come at an inopportune time for consumers in the U.S., which is seeing containership congestion ease in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. Trans-Pacific delays largely have shifted to Asia, with China seeing 14% more vessels than a median count from April 2021. Ships in the U.S. are 6.2% less than the median.

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