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Unexpected Routing Changes of My Cargo: What Do I Do Now?

Sea Freight,  Uncategorized


Over the last month, we’ve seen a few instances where vessels have omitted ports that were part of their original schedule (i.e. a blank sailing).

There are many reasons why these changes can happen, ranging from vessel issues and poor weather to complex operational reasons. In more recent months, the COVID19 pandemic has had a contributing role to play with the blank sailings we have experienced. When blank sailings occur, they can have a significant impact on your cargo, but there are ways you can address the problems that arise from these unexpected events.

If you’re looking to factor in blank sailings and unexpected routing changes into your supply chain timeline, this is the right blog to review. Below, we’ll explain why routings may change, what can happen to your cargo and how you can ensure your cargo is protected in such circumstances.

Routing Changes – Why they happen

Sometimes, not everything goes to plan.

There are many causes for unexpected route changes, even after your cargo arrives at the port origin for departure. It’s important to be aware of these reasons when determining the timeline for your shipping process so you have a plan in case the unexpected happens.

Issues with the vessel

Sometimes there will be an unforeseen issue involving the vessel itself. These occurrences are very rare but may include shipping accidents, piracy, or operational damage.

In May 2020, for instance, the Singapore-flagged ship APL suffered a cargo spill and lost 50 containers when experiencing choppy waters off the coast of New South Wales. The vessel was on its way to Melbourne from China but was redirected to Brisbane for unloading. The Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA) charged the master of the ship for pollution offences due to poor cargo loading.


Poor weather

Poor weather may also impact the ability for a vessel to dock at a port, meaning the routing will change at the last minute. Depending on the weather’s severity, vessels may be directed to other ports for offloading. When this happens, a coastal or rail service will normally be provided to redirect the cargo to the intended port of destination.

In April 2015, for instance, there were closures at Port Kembla and restrictions in Newcastle due to bad weather. Winds around 40 knots posed a significant danger to boarding operations and ship handling. There was also very heavy rain and strong winds.

In February 2020, the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands simply suspended all shipping operations because of poor weather. Suppliers were quoted as saying that simply no ships were to enter the port and that all terminals were closed.

Instances like these may cause unexpected routing changes to a ship, so it’s important to take them into account when planning your shipping timeline.

Unexpected Routing Changes of My Cargo: What Do I Do Now?

Port omission

Sometimes, vessel operators will make the decision to omit ports from their schedule for operational purposes. On these occasions, goods will likely be offloaded at another port.

This occurred in December 2019, when nearly 800,000 people went on strike in France. Marseille, Le Havre and La Rochelle ports were completely blocked, leading global shipping company Hapag-Lloyd to omit the port of Le Havre from their schedule. The reasons they cited for this decision included avoiding port stoppages, tug strikes as well as congestion at port terminals.

Cargo containers that were already at the port of Le Havre were transferred to the first vessel available, and the company announced that they were continuously searching for other ways to evacuate their containers in the quickest way they could.

Subsequent berth congestion

Berth (or port) congestion will sometimes leave vessels no choice but to change their route unexpectedly. Port congestion occurs when vessels arrive at a port but are unable to berth because there are physically no berths available.

It’s a common problem – according to Shipping and Freight Resource, the increase in the number of container ships has grown by over 1,000 percent in the past 50 years which may be contributing to rising port congestion. The reasons behind this include:

  • The terminal having overbooked the berths beyond their capacity;
  • Delays due to bad weather;
  • Strikes;
  • War;
  • Restricted port access; and
  • A lack of equipment at the port to handle containers.

The ongoing pandemic has caused slower operations across many ports around the world and has contributed to the growing problem of port congestion. It was reported in July 2020 that Chinese port congestion was reaching record levels. This was especially the case along ports in the Yangtze River. In 2021, we have also seen record-breaking numbers of congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, you can read up on the situation here.


The Coronavirus outbreak, and government efforts to stop the spread, has impacted blank sailings in recent months. Earlier in the year, it was reported that carriers were “rushing through blanked sailing announcements on a scale and speed never seen before, giving shippers very little chance to make alternative plans”.

Unfortunately, many shipping services are using blank sailings as a strategy to address the massive volume drop across trading lines. Hellenic Shipping News reported that there was a record of 105 cancellations across trades across the Transpacific and Asia-North Europe & Mediterranean lines in February 2020.

This has meant that many containers have needed to be rerouted elsewhere, with importers and exporters having little (if any) control over the process.

What will happen to my cargo if the route changes?

Unfortunately, once your cargo has been delivered to the port and the route unexpectedly changes, it is extremely challenging to change your booking. The reasons for this are:

  • Goods are often staged for loading. This means you’ll have to pay for each “lift” of other containers to access your cargo, meaning increased costs to you; and
  • Decisions to omit ports when goods are already on route cannot be influenced. If your goods are on a transhipment route (which you can read more about here), often goods will already be booked onto another vessel at the transhipment port

Therefore, we advise that the best course of action to take if your cargo is affected is:

  • Inform your suppliers of the situation. It is important your suppliers  are not left in the dark about unexpected events that happen in your supply chain, especially when your containers are involved;
  • Ask for a copy of shipping line notices. These notices will keep you up to date with information directly from the vessel operator;

My cargo is urgent can I offload?

Sometimes you will be able to offload your cargo at port rather than having it rerouted.

If offloading your cargo is the only feasible option, we would advise asking your ICE representative to analyse your circumstances and determine how much it will cost you.

Be aware that you will often need to pay for each container movement (if staged) and then onwards shipping. Moving staged containers can be time-consuming, so the end result could become quite expensive for you. It’s important to think if this is the most cost-effective and only option for your cargo.

Final tips – how to deal with rerouted cargo

Unfortunately, re-routed cargo is part of the risk when shipping your goods via sea freight.

The best way to approach a re-routing scenario is to be proactive about finding a solution and discuss available options with an expert freight forwarder. For instance, you can assess whether offloading your cargo is worth the extra cost, especially if your shipment is particularly urgent.

At International Cargo Express, our shipping experts can assist and keep you informed every step of the way with your Sea freight consignments. Please get in contact with us if you have any concerns regarding your shipment.

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