According to sources, data from the shipping industry indicates that blanked sailings have evolved from emergency measures to routine practice. Several major carriers are now treating these skipped sailings as a common of the normal shipping business, particularly in the Asia–Europe trade route. The trend has become increasingly apparent, with data showing that 10.8% of all scheduled sailings on the 25 Central China — Europe loops, operated by the three major alliances, were canceled during the months of June and July.
Initially introduced as a strategy to address low cargo demand, blanked sailings gained prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic due to port congestion and delays in ship arrivals. However, the landscape has shifted, with the influx of new tonnage and an ample supply of available ships. This has led to a different rationale behind the practice of blanked sailings.
Surprisingly, even as ONE (Ocean Network Express) welcomed new vessels into its fleet, it was THE Alliance that recorded the highest percentage of skipped sailings during the same period. The 2M agreement, comprising MSC and Maersk, exhibited a more conservative approach by blanking only three Central China to Europe trips in the given timeframe.
Notably, MSC, one of the partners in the 2M agreement, has encountered challenges in filling the ships for its new standalone weekly Asia–Baltic service named ‘Swan.’ Launched just last June, this service operates with a limited fleet of four vessels ranging from 7,400 to 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The difficulties in sustaining demand have been underscored by a recent occurrence where MSC was forced to cancel a planned voyage involving the 14,000 TEU vessel, MSC DEILA, due to a slowdown in demand.
The decision to implement blanked sailings carries an underlying objective of stabilizing spot freight rates. This move aims to alleviate pressure on the freight market, as indicated by the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI). Following a General Rate Increase (GRI) on August 1st, spot freight rates for the Shanghai to North Europe route surged to USD 1,950 per forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU). However, recent figures show a slight dip, with rates settling at USD 1,850 (to North Europe) and USD 3,000 to the Mediterranean region.
As the shipping industry adapts to evolving dynamics and seeks strategies to balance capacity and demand, blanked sailings have transitioned from a temporary fix to an established norm. Impacting shippers and buyers with dates and contracts of delivery.