How Bad Weather Impacts Shipping (and How to Deal With It)
October 28, 2022 Sea Freight
Weather can have a critical impact on shipping and on the aircraft and vessels carrying cargo. Given that transport is an inherently logistical industry relying on physical infrastructure, it is constantly exposed to the whims of the natural environment.
Bad weather impacts every party in the supply chain, from shippers onshore and truck companies to ocean carriers, airlines and container ports.
Below, we’ll outline how weather events can impact freight movement, and provide examples of different types of these events. We’ll also outline some tips on how you as a shipper can deal with bad weather when organising your shipment.
Influences port activity
It is fundamental for ports across Australia to have clear weather in order to optimise their operations. Once a vessel is in a port, required procedures and ship maneuvers can be impeded simply due to changes in weather conditions.
Disruptions at a container port has ripple effects across entire supply chains. If a port is hit by heavy winds, for example, they may not be able to operate cranes and so may close. Cargo will therefore need to be stored for an extended period (if the cargo itself has not been destroyed) or completely rerouted, causing delays for customers.
This happened during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Gantry cranes collapsed at Freeport Container Port – which is about 65 miles from Florida, USA – forcing the port to shut down as it was repaired. Ocean carrier MSC diverted their cargo to other ports in Caucedo, Kingston, and Cristobal. This caused cargo to be delayed by months, pushing the arrival date for Nassau-bound shipments from 24 October to 12 December.
As such, in the event of bad weather, authorities may close certain ports as a protective measure. Ports Kembla, Botany and Jackson in Australia were all closed in April 2015 due to intense rainfall and destructive winds. Tropical storms in August 2020 led authorities in the U.S. state of Louisiana to close down ports at Baton Rouge. Ports in Shanghai were also closed in July 2021 as the country faced the deadly Typhoon In-fa.
Lost and damaged cargo
If there is poor weather, delays can not only happen at ports. They can also happen enroute at sea once your cargo is loaded.
The ONE Apus container collapse in November 2020 is a prime example. Over 1,900 containers were either lost or damaged when the 14,000-TEU Apus became caught in a violent storm around 1,600 nautical miles northwest of Hawaii. This may have accounted for up to a quarter of all its cargo.
As a result, the vessel was delayed on her voyage to Long Beach while investigations into the collapse took place. A recovery plan for the containers was also established.
This demonstrates that container ships need to navigate weather events in the water and decide whether to divert course or wait for the event to pass.
Whilst cargo ships are always running to a tight schedule, it is critical for carriers to make a judgment call as to whether they are able to ‘withstand the storm’, plot an alternative course, wait for the bad weather to pass or cancel a journey altogether.
Weather is a significant cause of delays in aircraft operations. In U.S. airspace alone, issues with the weather can account for up to half of all such delays. Unexpected turbulence also reportedly costs U.S. carriers around $100 million per year.
In the worst cases, poor weather can also contribute to deadly aircraft accidents. In 2012, an Aéro-Service Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft crashed into a residential area in Congo-Brazzaville, killing 32 people. Authorities believed the crash may have been caused by a severe thunderstorm.
Therefore, airlines need to carefully assess weather forecasts and decide whether it is safe to fly. Aircraft themselves have their own sophisticated electronic equipment available onboard, which can track the atmosphere mid-flight and pass the information to meteorologists on the ground.
Regrettably, there was a massive reduction of international flight movements because of the pandemic and aircraft-based observations fell by up to 90% in some parts of the world in 2020. Studies have shown that such observations, however, can reduce errors in weather forecasts by up to 20%. It may be that losing this data would reduce the accuracy of these predictions.
Poor weather is often responsible for slowing down, and even completely stopping, freight operations. On the road, drivers can’t travel if the path is obstructed by ice or floods. At sea, vessels may be forced to take longer routes if there is a storm. In the air, airlines may be forced to cancel flights if weather conditions are too dangerous.
This, in turn, causes frustrating delays, impacts the throughput of cargo, stalls delivery times and ultimately affects the operations of the end customer.
This is particularly the case during China’s Typhoon season, where we may see port operations coming to a standstill as it becomes too dangerous to operate. Typhoon In-Fa forced Shanghai’s container port and airport to close completely in July 2021. Hundreds of flights were cancelled and cargo reportedly became stuck at Pudong. Road transport was significantly disrupted by flooding.
In May 2020, by way of further example, severe weather in New South Wales caused extensive delays. Pilotage was suspended in Port Botany, Port Kembla and the Port of Newcastle. The Chief Executive of Container Transport Alliance Australia stated that vessel schedules in Australia were “widely out of whack”, only made worse by the impacts of the pandemic.
5 extreme weather events (and their impact on shipping)
Below, we’ll outline five examples of weather events that directly impact shipping and supply chains as described above.
General storms can involve high winds, intense rainfall, flooding and – in the worst case – hurricanes and cyclones. Trade flows can be disrupted as roads and ports close, and flights and voyages are cancelled.
In April 2021, for example, Cyclone Seroja battered parts of Western Australia. Freight flows were affected, as main roads were closed including a large section of the Great Eastern Highway. Grains cooperative CBH Group announced that their operations had suffered “significant disruptions to the CBH rail, road and shipping programs” because of the cyclone. The rail network in the port zones of Geraldton and Kwinana were closed, and all vessels had been moved out of Geraldton Port and into the inlet.
Bushfires also have a significant impact on Australian transport. Not only can they destroy businesses and agricultural property, but they can also cause extensive power outages, deny access to critical shipping access points and delay the transport of goods across land.
The 2019-20 Black Summer Bushfires in Australia is a case in point. During these fires, a lot of cargo was kept in warehouses for an extended period due to grounded flights and road closures. Shipping delays were anywhere from between a day to two weeks depending on the destination, resulting in increased freight costs.
The economic cost was unprecedented. Seaports and airports continued their operations, but major highways were closed in Western Australia, as well as NSW and VIC state borders. This caused significant disruption in those trade flows. Total damages from the wildfire are estimated to be around US$110 billion as a result of road closures, power outages, flight cancellations and production halts.
Typhoons are large-scale tropical cyclones. They have a tremendous impact on shipping, with the potential to disrupt entire international supply chains. They can stall ship movements, cause frustrating delays and – in the worst-case scenario – destroy entire vessels.
The capsizing of the live export ship Gulf Livestock 1 in September 2020 is a striking and tragic example. The 11,947-tonne vessel carrying 5,867 live cattle was en route from New Zealand to China, when it became caught in rough seas caused by Typhoon Maysak just west of Amami Oshima island (south-western Japan).
Although 43 crew members were on board the ship, only 2 survivors were found. Efforts to rescue survivors were hampered, with the search area in the direct path of Typhoons Maysak and Haishen. Eventually, search attempts by the Japanese Coast Guard and a privately funded search team were called off.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve witnessed the potential for such destruction. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami destroyed all harbours and landing piers between Lhok Nga and Meulaboh in Indonesia. The 2011 Tohoku tsunami also damaged a range of ports on the Pacific coast of Japan – causing approximately US$12 billion in damage to the country’s vessels, ports and maritime facilities.
Snow and ice
Heavy snowfall and ice can block vital roadways and cause significant traffic jams. Trucks are forced to adjust their routes, and drivers may be placed in danger due to low visibility. Snow may also be a factor behind flight cancellations and shipping delays. In fact, snow and ice are reportedly responsible for over 50% of all weather-related delays.
Storm Darcy, hitting Europe in early 2021, is an example of a disruptive snow occurrence. Temperatures dropped to as low as -27° Celsius in some parts of the continent. Flights and train trips were cancelled in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Rail trips were also cancelled in London and several parts of England.
How to prepare cargo for bad weather
There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of your cargo being adversely affected by bad weather. We’ve outlined some of these steps below.
Pack your cargo correctly
If your cargo is not packed correctly, your goods being damaged while en route. This applies whether your freight is being carried via sea, air, road or rail.
Some courses of action to take include:
- Using strong boxes to minimise the risk of breakage
- Using double walled boxes
- Using high-quality packing tape (and a tape gun)
- Palletising your cargo
- Labelling your cargo correctly
Consider alternate routes
Routing changes may occur unexpectedly, especially due to bad weather. Vessels may be redirected to other ports to offload cargo, as some may completely suspend all shipping operations.
You may consider placing your cargo on a vessel sailing an alternate route expected not to have such harsh weather. You may also decide to use a combination of sea and air freight to facilitate your shipment.
Ultimately, you cannot control the weather. Harsh winds, intense rainfall, cyclones, bushfires and snow will always be a risk when shipping your cargo. It is always best practice for you to take out a marine insurance policy to cover your losses just in case the worst happens. It is also essential to cover yourself in case of general average claims.
Also known as transit insurance, these policies are crafted to minimise an insured party’s loss if freight falls overboard, lost at sea, stolen or damaged.
We offer robust marine insurance policies here at ICE, covering the loss, damage of theft of cargo while it is in transit.
Seek advice from a freight forwarder
If you work with an experienced freight forwarder, you can receive expert and tailored advice on the best way to minimise the impact of bad weather on your shipment.
We are a full-service freight forwarder and customs broker and can devise the best logistics strategy possible to transport your goods safely and cost-effectively.Request A Quote
or call us on 1300 227 461
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