Floods in China disrupt Yangtze River cargo flow

Port operations at Shanghai and Ningbo have been severely disrupted by the nation’s worst floods in decades which have led to port closures on the Yangtze River.

The floods, caused by heavy rains over the last six weeks, have also impacted container operations in southern China where reefer imports have already been disrupted by stringent checks on meat and other perishables due to Covid-19.

“There have been delays affecting feeder services along the Yangtze River and to Shanghai and Ningbo,” a senior executive at a leading Hong Kong-based freight forwarder told IHS Media. “Some of the feeder services have been suspended or are operating a reduced schedule for the last one or two weeks. From Wuhan to Shanghai, a distance of about 700 miles, it is now taking roughly six to seven days for a feeder ship to complete the journey compared with the normal four days.”

Danish shipping giant Maersk confirmed that ports along the Yangtze had suspended operations and while the situation has eased, heavy rain in the next few days could bring further disruption and port closures, IHS Media reported.

The difficulties have added to congestion in Shanghai and Ningbo. Ocean Network Express (ONE) said in a customer advisory that berth congestion at Qingdao and the other two cities had caused a three-day delay in the sailing schedule of the 8,100 TEU ONE Cosmos operating its Pacific Northwest Loop 4 service.

The Yangtze is China’s main transport artery between inland cities including Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Hefei and east coast commercial hubs such as Shanghai. Wuhan is one of the country’s car manufacturing hubs, along with Hefei in Anhui Province.

Total container throughput at the river’s 15 main ports climbed 10.9 per cent to 19.4 million TEU last year, while total cargo volumes grew 11.3 per cent to 3.2 billion tonnes, according to the river’s navigational affairs administration, part of China’s transport ministry.

The floods, which started in early June following continuous heavy rain, are the worst since at least 1998 and have so far killed more than 140 people and affected 27 provinces, regions, and municipalities.

The impact had added to delays to reefer cargoes in southern China, where more than 20 ports in the Pearl River Delta have banned or restricted the import of refrigerated products, mainly meat, as China Customs carried out more stringent safety and health checks from June 23 after the coronavirus was found in frozen food.

Carriers, including Hapag-Lloyd and Hong Kong’s Gold Star Line, the intra-Asia affiliate of Zim Integrated Shipping Services, confirmed they had issues with reefer cargoes.