Blanking voyages has turned into unblanking. Ocean carriers try to match supply with demand on a precise basis, to cut losses.
That is a proven technique in industries where you can also vary inventory. But voyages are time-sensitive, and result in lead time losses for shippers. And with large ships, there are a lot more of them.
Even in transportation we see it– I believe it is a similar philosphy to Precision Controlled Railroading made popular by Hunter Harrison at CN and later CSX. But the effect in railroading has been to drive business to trucks, except for large shippers. And we will see the same in ocean container carriage.
It’s COVID-19 time, and we can think about what would happen in public transportation, say a train system, adopted ‘blanked sailings’. You go to the station for the 8:42 and find that because of insufficient demand the train was not running and you’d be late for your work as a cleaner at a hospital. You’d be MAD. You would also think about how else to get there, perhaps a bicycle (probably there is no air!). And if this happened a lot, you might quit using the rail altogether.
Soon Ocean container carriers will serve only a few large customers who can stand the inventory fluctuations of blanked sailings. That is actually what has happened in railroading as well. Where can the small customer get a break?
Enter the forwarders. By doing the ocean carriers’ job, by consolidating shippers, they can buy blocks of movement, and become the large customers for the ocean carriers. but now there will be mismatches at each step. It is a classic bullwhip effect. forwarders over-order to be sure they get their share, then can’t fill their space. Carriers will blank sailings, inconveniencing everyone. And we see supply-denamd variation with huge amplitude, making it impossible to control.
Welcome to transportation life in the 21st century.
By Mike Wackett