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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Maritime Logistics Professional

Aren’t you glad not to be in Asia-Europe air freight

Posted to Far East Maritime (by on April 21, 2010

Ocean shippers must be thanking their lucky stars they aren’t involved in sending goods by air to Europe.

But could something happen that would shut down most of the ports in continental USA? The answer is yes, but the cause will be no natural disaster.

Hurricane Katrina closed New Orleans and many of the Gulf ports and those on the eastern seaboard are regularly threatened by hurricanes. The Big One could put Los Angeles and San Francisco in the sea.

But an earthquake or the weather will not be what slams down the gate. That will come after a port is attacked and it is the nightmare “bomb in a box” scenario that drives the US in boosting security.

Several million containers cascade in and out of a multitude of ports every year. Keeping tabs on such volume is near impossible and the technology is not yet available that can scan a box and every item inside.

What the vast US security apparatus is doing is trying to push the risk offshore with the various container security schemes and the known shipper programme. Identifying a dodgy box long before it reaches the US is the best way to keep the country secure.

That is not easy. As the world’s biggest economy, the US consumes a vast array of commodities, the bulk of which are imported via ocean. Each member of the supply chain can potentially sabotage a shipment, so vetting all players is complicated, time consuming and expensive.

Transporting goods involves a complex linking up of manufacturers, 3PLs, consolidators, truck and rail companies, ocean carriers, terminals, agents, forwarders, buyers, financial services, etc.

No one holds much inventory these days so much of the thousands of tonnes of goods being sold at retailers across the US is essentially stored in the supply chain pipeline. If ports at the destination shut down, cargo will immediately begin to stack up at every point.

Where airlines can simply refuse to accept cargo and forwarders will send freight back to their customers or store it in a warehouse, the size and volume of sea freight means if ports are shut in the US, ships in Asia will stop loading and terminals will quickly become choked with boxes.

The world may regard US initiatives to combat real or imagined terror attacks as being overzealous, but the impact of a successful terrorist mission would have a crippling effect on anyone involved in trade with the US. And that is pretty much the whole world.

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