In August 2021, a portion of the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port in China was shut down due to a worker testing positive for COVID-19. While the infection had only managed to affect a single terminal, the temporary closure still had a significant impact, especially when considering that the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port is the third busiest container port in the world.
Furthermore, since the terminal in question reportedly accounts for 25% of the total container cargo that comes through the port, the implications of stopped operations were felt throughout the world. Now, China and the rest of the world need to find ingenious solutions to address this possible shipping crisis.
A Global Impact
Given the importance of the terminal in the grander scheme of global trade, related statistics reveal the extensive damage caused by the China shipping crisis. From a domestic point of view, CNN Business reported that a survey measuring manufacturing in China showed that activity in August had dipped to 50.1%, which is the slowest registered growth rate since the pandemic initially began.
While one may not initially think that the closure of a shipping terminal affected domestic manufacturers, the relationship is nevertheless interconnected. For example, it is important to consider that manufacturers adjust and consider production based on a variety of factors, such as the domestic country’s ability to export and import materials necessary for their process. This is only a single example as such associated relationships with the shipping industry exist throughout several key sectors in China.
Meanwhile, in a separate article by Reuters, reports found that shipping rates from China to the United States had peaked well above 20,000 USD per 40-foot box in August 2021. This marks a 500% increase when compared to rates from the same time in the previous year. Similarly, as of the end of August, the average cost for shipping at the Yantian Port had registered clocked in at 15,336 USD. In contrast to the domestic statistics regarding manufacturing, these figures instead reflect the impact of the China shipping container crisis from an international perspective.
Nowhere To Go But Up
While many of the delays experienced are caused by COVID-related issues, China can consider the role of its port authorities when evaluating possible solutions. One such solution that could be applied is the use of robotics in day-to-day operations.
In a white paper by YCP Solidiance entitled "How is COVID-19 Shaping China’s Robotics Industry?,” researchers found that businesses within China’s health and service industries applied robotics as a way to automate processes, minimize human contact, and monitor crowd control which led to an overall boost in safety and operational efficiency. For example, China’s XAG Technologies converted its agricultural spraying drones to become air disinfectant dispensers for various industries.
All things considered, China’s shipping ports will eventually need to increase its current activity to compensate for the losses incurred by various shipping problems. For that to become a possibility in the first place, the safety of all employees involved must first be prioritized. Moving forward, look to port authorities and related proponents to develop adequate processes that ensure steady recovery through digital and tech-led means.
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