Watch Now

Shanghai port runs out of space for refrigerated containers

Ocean carriers redirect shipments for interim storage until lockdown eases

Refrigerated containers have generator sets that keep the contents cool during transit. On vessels and at ports they are plugged into electric outlets. The Port of Shanghai has run out of plugs because of overcrowding. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Container vessel operators are preparing to divert refrigerated containers destined for Shanghai to other ports because the area to plug into electric power is full of cargo that trucks can’t retrieve in the face of a citywide COVID lockdown.

The notices to customers are the latest manifestation of how the strict restrictions on movement within the city are impacting imports and exports through the world’s largest container port and Pudong International Airport.

Authorities in Shanghai have sealed off the entire city for nearly two weeks. Over the weekend a record 23,000 COVID cases per day were counted. More than 90% of trucks supporting import and export deliveries are out of action because of the restrictions. The slow pickup of cargo has resulted in long container dwell times, leaving less room to place arriving import boxes. Decreased terminal efficiency is forcing dozens of container vessels to wait at anchor for berth space, while others skip the port altogether.

Import dwell times for containers at Shanghai marine terminals has increased nearly 75%, to eight days, since the lockdowns began, according to supply chain visibility platform project44. Export storage time has fallen, possibly because there are few new containers being delivered from warehouses.

CMA CGM on Friday urged cargo owners to identify alternative ports for delivering refrigerated containers in case port operators deny discharge due to the limited availability of electric plug-ins. 

The ocean carrier said it will waive the administrative fee for customers that pay cash on delivery for reefers dropped in other ports. But shippers could be responsible for other charges, including storage and plug-in at the new port.

“As we try our best to safeguard your cargo, please note that in the event your reefer import shipment fails to discharge upon its arrival in Shanghai, we may divert the cargo to alternative transshipment port(s) for interim storage before shipping back to Shanghai when the situation allows,” the notice said.

China is a major importer of fresh and frozen pork, chicken, seafood and other perishable products.

Mediterranean Shipping Co., the world’s largest container vessel operator, also said it will begin offloading refrigerated containers at other ports because there are no available power plugs to connect to in Shanghai. Unless customers request a specific change in destination within seven days, reefers will be discharged at intermediate or alternate ports of the carrier’s choosing. Additional freight charges for transshipment, storage, equipment rental and electrical connection may apply.

Restricted truck access is slowing container turnover in Shanghai port

And Ocean Network Express said overcrowding at two Shanghai container terminals might prevent its vessels from discharging reefer boxes.

Shanghai residents are demonstrating increased signs of frustration with the mass isolation, with people having to stay in their homes and depend on the government to bring food supplies. 

“There is no purpose for Shanghai if we are locked down forever. … Managing omicron is not about controlling the virus. Control and contain measures slow the transmission, but now is the time to bolster individual and population defenses with more vaccinations, expanded health care support facilities, use home recovery and care for the vaccinated and lower-risk citizens,” wrote Alexander Glos, CEO of China i2i Group, in his China Intelligence Report newsletter.

“We must make full use of all of the tools available and tackle the problem at its core. There are many active viral infectious diseases in our world. We attack them, we manage them, and we continue to live. This is what we must do here today!” he said.

Many cargo owners are sending shipments to the Port of Ningbo and other airports outside Shanghai, but they too are experiencing congestion. Factories and warehouses in the  Greater Shanghai metro area, a major center for electronics and automotive supplies, are also closed or operating at reduced capacity with workers living on site. 

Alibaba helps with food delivery

Meanwhile, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group on Friday said it would direct 3,000 workers to help distribute goods to locked-down residents in Shanghai.

The group’s food delivery platform will dispatch 600 couriers from other cities to Shanghai and Alibaba’s logistics arm, Cainiao, will bring in another 500 delivery personnel. 

Click here for more FreightWaves and American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


Another China lockdown jeopardizes electronics, auto supply chains

Cargo airlines cancel flights as Shanghai enforces COVID lockdown

Shippers redirect Shanghai cargo to other airports amid mass quarantine

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]