When Dave and I taught in Hong Kong we took a tour of one of its bustling container ports.
Our good friends who were involved with the trucking industry in Canada had come to visit us in Hong Kong and were interested in seeing the container port. Luckily the parent of one of our students was in charge of a container port and happy to give us a tour. We learned just what an intricate song and dance is required to coordinate the arrival and departure of tens of millions of containers each year.
On our tour we discovered the container port, which was like a mini-city was turning around ships in less than a day from the time their containers were unloaded to the time they were loaded up with new containers and sent on their way. This fast turn around time was achieved by a complex computer system that kept track of each container- its contents, weight, arrival and departure time and the best place in the port to store it. The port was open and operating twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year. We watched the steady stream of thousands of trucks arriving to pick up goods from the port.
Things are very different today as container ports are plagued with a myriad of woes that are vastly slowing their usual efficiency. These troubles in container ports are having a crippling effect on all kinds of businesses in Canada. Manufacturers aren’t getting the parts they need from other countries to make their products. Books, particularly those with lots of color, like children’s picture books that are usually printed overseas aren’t reaching book shops and stores will run short of toys for kid’s Christmas presents since many are manufactured in China.
Ships are being made to wait out at sea for days before unloading their cargo at container ports. Container ports are packed with containers that simply aren’t being picked up. The cost of renting a container has in some cases quadrupled from pre-pandemic prices and those costs are being passed on to the consumer.
The cause of all this turmoil? There is a shortage of workers in factories, at ports, and in the trucking industry. Some factories and ports had to close at least for a time because of COVID outbreaks and there is an increased demand for products as people have learned the ease of shopping from home.
And the container ports in Hong Kong? According to this article in The Financial Times they are currently nearly 600 ships waiting out at sea to unload their cargo at ports there.