How The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Added To The Global Shipping Container Shortage

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We’re now more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and the global shipping container shortage continues to be felt across the world.

According to, roughly 90% percent of the world’s goods are transported by sea with over 70% as containerized cargo. In addition, demand for shipping containers currently outweigh supply.

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Why are we in this position? highlights that one reason for the global shipping container shortage is that there are only two companies in the world that build and sell shipping containers — both are based in China. We must also keep in mind that all shipping containers leaving China are first loaded with goods in China and sent out to their destination. This results in time spent unloading the containers first and COVID-19 itself has caused huge bottlenecks at crowded ports.

Reasons For Global Shipping Container Shortage

1. Lack Of Available Containers

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As mentioned above, the only two companies that build and sell shipping containers are based in China. This, coupled with disrupted trade flows, has led to a shortage. Once economies started to open up again, it took a while for containers to arrive at their right destination to unload/load with products.

This problem was made worse on March 23rd when the Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal. It took crews nearly a week to free the ship to allow trade to pass through. However, the damage has already been done and supply chains around the world are still working through the shipping backlog that’s been made worse. More than 10% of world trade passes through the Suez Canal. With congested ports and vessels behind on schedule, it’ll take a considerable amount of time to clear the backlog.

2. Crowded ports

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To control the spread of COVID-19, many ports reduced their workforces, and this caused heavy vessel delays and cancelled shipments. Consumer demand has continued to pick up and supply chains simply can’t meet the demand. According to, “Los Angeles handled 957,599 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in March, up 113% year on year — the highest March number in the port’s history.” Cities across the world are slowly relaxing lockdown measures, but backlogs will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.

3. Changing consumer behavior

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Consumer’s buying behaviour has changed during COVID-19 and continues to be unpredictable. These changes have disrupted global trade and can be partially blamed for the global shipping container shortage. A report by says that consumer behavior has shifted in 8 areas of our lives.

These areas are:

1. Work (Rise of unemployment, On-the-go consumption decline, Remote working)2. Learning (Spending on learning adjacencies, Remote learning)
3. Communications and information (In-person sampling decline, Shift in media consumption)
4. Travel and mobility (Reduction in tourist spend and travel retail, Increase in domestic tourism)
5. Shopping and consumption (Surge in e-commerce, Preference for trusted brands, Decline in discretionary spending, trading down, Larger basket, reduced shopping frequency, Shift to stores closer to home, Polarization of sustainability
6. Life at home (Nesting at home, Surge in online)
7. Play and entertainment (Preference for digital entertainment, Entertainment channel shift (eg, cinema to streaming), Additional play time)
8. Health and wellbeing (Focus on health and hygiene, Acceleration of organic, natural, fresh, Fitness on demand, E-pharmacy & e-doctor at scale)

Global Shipping Container Shortage Outlook For 2021

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(Image credit: TSS Ltd.)

As we head further in 2021, there is reason for optimism.

Vaccines continue to be rolled out, which will allow for more economies to open up and for certain sectors to increase their output.

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