Worker Shortages Snarl Shipping Even as Shanghai Lockdown Eases

The Yangshan Deepwater Port in Shanghai in China. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

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China appears to be gradually easing its lockdown of Shanghai, but that won’t bring immediate relief to global supply chain congestion, according to a major shipping company.

Shortages of rail, port and trucking workers in China and the U.S. need to get resolved quicker than is currently happening as they are delaying ships at the world’s major ports, said Jeremy Nixon, CEO of Ocean Network Express Pte.

“Every government is doing their best to address the issue, but labor shortages still exist and infrastructure shortages still exist,” Nixon said in an interview May 17. “We’re putting more ships into service, but we can’t magic up more when we’re running out.”

The world’s supply chains have taken a battering this year from China’s zero-COVID policy, which has hampered the production and delivery of everything from bathroom faucets to Apple iPhones. At the same time, trucker and rail worker shortages in the U.S. have made it difficult for industries to move their goods, prompting the Biden administration to step in.

From Los Angeles to Hamburg, scores of containerships are waiting for weeks to berth at ports, Nixon said. That wait is three weeks at Vancouver in Canada, and there’s currently a queue of 130 vessels waiting off the world’s biggest port in Shanghai, he said.

While the Chinese city’s lockdown is slowly being eased as COVID-19 cases drop, the number of containerships spotted in the Shanghai and Ningbo-Zhoushan region is still 11% above the median in the last year, according to shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. And the volume of container goods moving in or out of Shanghai port by truck and train has declined over the past week, according to data from FourKites.

The disruption to supply chains has extended further south to other ports. The number of containerships off Shenzhen and Hong Kong hit a seven-month high of 184 vessels May 17. At this time last year, there were just 95 vessels in the area.

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