What does the future of maritime transport look like?

Nobody questions that maritime freight transport is an indispensable part of the international freight transport chain, as it is a crucial element of world trade. But is it still true that it is growing dynamically in 2023?

Transport by water is efficient for carrying all types of goods. It is flexible in terms of pricing, has low specific energy requirements and is therefore cheap and the least polluting compared to other sectors. Although it has numerous logistical advantages, maritime transport is a very complex business, with safety being a key factor. Due to rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions, the number of accidents is increasing and the amount of lost cargo due to incidents is rising. Long delivery times cannot be ignored and the obvious fact that the transport is always affected by weather conditions, water levels and port congestion. Of all the other transport sub-sectors, this is the one which requires the most attention to packaging, which is a significant cost-increasing factor. The direct transport links between consignor and consignee are not suitable and may require to be combined with road and/or rail transport of the goods and consequently multiple transhipments and possibly multiple intermediate storage. 

Does container transport meet the requirements and expectations of the infrastructure? The presence of different types of risks in the various elements of the supply chain is a burden on transport security, and the responsibility of scientific research in finding solutions to address these risks should be taken into account. 

Already in 2020, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could be seen as a major challenge for the industry. As maritime transport decreased, the total gross weight of goods transported as part of EU short sea shipping is estimated at almost 1.7 billion tonnes in 2020, a decrease of 6.6 % compared to 2019.

During the pandemic, consumer behavior changed and online shopping was the driving force of the economy. The sudden demand for products caused operational costs to rise- most notably, freight container shipping rates from Asia. Shipping companies operated with fewer ships (lack of capacity) and ports with fewer staff due to the closures. These circumstances combined to cause huge delays and container shortages. Demand for Chinese goods increased and as a result, Asian ports were trying to reclaim the containers and in most cases, they were empty on their way back to the Far East. Prices for maritime transport were breaking the ceiling at the height of the pandemic.

However, against the pessimistic predictions, ocean freight rates went down in 2022. The situation reversed itself in the spring of 2022. According to market experts, demands for products became lower due to the inflation. People prioritize to spend on necessities like food and gas, and those who can afford more, spend their budget on experiences and entertainment instead.

But how is it possible that customers probably didn’t see any prices dropping during the holidays? The quick answer is that the price of goods obviously includes labor and gas as well, and the shipping costs are not the only factors determining the costs.

According to Nomura analyst, Masaharu Hirokane, retailers in the US are stopping orders and reducing inventories due to the risk of an economic slowdown. Retailers and traders are more careful about the outlook on demand and are ordering less in general. The European market is flooded with cube containers and due to that, the region is experiencing a fall in the prices of the transportational boxes.


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