The commodity most often shipped in containers across the seven seas is pure air!
Approximately 20% of all worldwide shipped containers are empty! According to estimates direct handling costs alone are more than US$ 15 Billion p.a.! Furthermore carrier's box fleets have to be much larger than actually needed to satisfy shipper's demand. This results in containers standing empty or idle in average approx. 60% of the time which consequently causes additional costs in ports and at depots. Moreover empty boxes void valuable slots onboard vessels. Hence cost effective container management has become the key issue for the profitability of container lines.
The high amount of unproductive and costly empty positionings is due to:
- structural imbalances of general cargo flow,
- seasonal impacts of dominating commodities in specific trades,
- an imbalance of the 20ft:40ft ratio in both trade directions!
A significant share of repositioning is resulting from carrier's internal deficits in container logistics with regard to box sizes (20ft / 40ft). Carriers note strong ups and downs in supply and demand of different container sizes in certain areas/ports especially if several services of different trades are calling the same area. Local dispatchers often report: "Too many 20s, not enough 40s", or reverse. Not always the situation can be balanced in time. Not seldom the grotesque situation occures that a carrier has to leave laden boxes behind in order to reduce the empty stock of a certain size and position them to another port of the world where they are urgently needed.