The intricate schedule of cargo ships carrying everything from apples to auto parts between the U.S. and Southeast Asia has been undone by the coronavirus.
Loaded ships are backed up at Chinese ports, where workers have been furloughed to keep from spreading the illness, and businesses that would receive the goods have either remained closed or have no customers to clear existing inventory from their shelves.
A usual month sees 200 sailings from China to the U.S. As of now, shipping companies have canceled more than 110 crossings for the first quarter of 2020.
The traffic jams on China’s shores have left a shortage of 40-foot containers at U.S. docks, slowing cargo shipments to other destinations.
“Empty [refrigerated] containers are in short supply,” said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agricultural Transport Coalition. “It’s harder to get on a vessel and there’s not enough outbound capacity to handle all the cargo seeking bookings.”
“It’s cut-throat,” agrees Dalton Dovolis, a shipper booking cargoes of produce to China for the Salinas-based International Produce Group. The lack of containers may cut the group’s shipments of oranges to China by half.