25 Most Common Reasons Of Cargo Delays

Who else, if not a logistician, most often hears the question "Why is my cargo late"? Are all the logisticians (or even half of them) so bad, and this notorious profession is doomed to be a place for people who have nothing on time? Well, there can also be the fault of the transport company responsible for the transportation of your cargo. But in what cases? What companies fall into the category of "transport company"? What is their area of responsibility? Let's deal with it together.


1. Weather conditions

If your cargo is delivered by sea - the influence of hydrometeorological factors on the controllability of the ship has the most direct relation to terms of delivery of your cargo. The deviation from the route depending on weather conditions will require time costs for adjustment of the course, and in case of especially severe storms - even the shelter of the vessel in the nearest safe port, which may in some cases shift the delivery time for 1-2 weeks. In case of damage to the vessel as a result of the storm, this period may be even greater (learn more in paragraph 2). History also knows the tragic cases of death of container ships in the storm, such as MV "Mechanic Tarasov".



2. Technical malfunction of the vessel

Only one ship engine consists of more than 120 thousand parts. All of them can break. There are thousands of technical faults, after which the ship will not be able to continue the voyage. The time that will be spent on delivering the ship which is not on the move to the nearest dock for repairs, plus the time for repairs itself can be a month or more. If your cargo goes in containers - it will be possible to be transshipped on other nearest vessel in port of transshipment, but only on if the country or port is serviced by the corresponding shipping line.


3. Navigational hazards

They can include various floating objects, for example: floating ice, mines torn from the anchors, fishing nets, barrels, floated trees, etc. These obstacles force the vessel to change the course. In addition, of the most common risks in practice - it is stranded and reefs. The most humble example is the stoppage of the ship "Amur-2507" in the Black Sea basin, or more significant examples of the incident in Sweden in 2017 or the recent situation with Ro-Ro ship Makassar Highway. Often the cause of this type of hazards are violations of the PCA, crew errors and human factor, failure of equipment, bad stability of the vessel and other.

About possible critical consequences of such incidents read in the article about  Rena container ship, which made a cabotage voyage between ports of New Zealand.



4. Prohibition of the ship's exit from the seaport

In accordance with the requirements of international treaties, in detecting irregularities in the monitoring of compliance with operational requirements, there are sometimes facts that may lead to the detention of the vessel. Depending on the severity of the detected violation, the time delay may be different; And not only port authorities, but also local customs authorities, veterinary, ecological, navigation service and other specialized services in different ports of the world, which can put forward their requirements, can present claims to the discrepancy, from long inspections of goods that do not have a survey certificate, to the payment of fines, consideration of which can also be delayed together with the delivery of your cargo.


5. No space at berth

A term that is well known to marine industry professionals - congestion of ships  - usually a seasonal phenomenon in some of the busiest ports in the world. Although recently the world community observes that the largest ports such as Shanghai, Singapore, Rotterdam, New York, etc. successfully apply the latest technologies, including IT, and their workload does not prevent them from avoiding congestion, while ports like Port Said and Chittagong, which are dozens of times concede in turnover, continue to suffer from this problem. For example, tropical rains in Bangladesh in August to October, become a serious obstacle to the discharging of the fleet, and the cereals season in Egypt (where Port Said is a hub and transshipment port for many shipping lines) simply does not allow to cope with volume of cargo flow. If your container is on a ship running such a route - be prepared to wait. Usually, shipping lines send notices about such kind of delays.



6. Feeder schedule failure

It is known that only 35% of all world line routes are covered on direct services. The rest is the delivery of cargo using transshipment ports. And if the declared time of delivery of your cargo from China makes 35 days on indirect service - be ready to add a week to this number (if POT is only one, and exactly as much more if several). Why? Because the stated time is the ideal time when the dock with a feeder takes place on the next day at port of transshipment. But deviations from schedules are regular, and the average frequency of ship-calls in the world is 7 days. So, if your container missed a feeder yesterday, you will wait for the next one not less than a week.


7. Technical faults in ports

In fact, this is a very common cause of delay, which is not so often written by the media. This is especially actual for developing countries: outdated equipment, lack of certification and scheduled inspections, non-compliance with safety standards - all this leads to an emergency situation one day. And sometimes it happens because of negligence of employees of the terminal. Remember that this can happen in relation to your cargo, so never neglect the possibility of insurance. By the way, some insurance companies also insure the risks of untimely cargo delivery associated with certain events.



8. Customs

The identification of violations that may lead to the apprehension of containers or even a vessel, described in paragraph 4, is not the only phenomenon that may affect the time of delivery of your cargo. Between the two countries there are at least 2 customs posts that container will pass, and in the case of transshipment ports, there are even more of them. At the same time, customs authorities at the port of transshipment can also assign control actions to your cargo, and even in this case it will be delayed. Of course, you should pay attention to this point if you are doing business with countries with a high level of corruption. In any case, at least make sure that you really have all the documents in order.


9. Military action

Armed conflicts, which some consider as a very unlikely event, still cause serious problems from time to time - just recall the situation in Syria. The first actions of such events can block the channel or close the port, which already has your cargo or through which it follows. War risk insurance is probably the only effective solution to this type of matters; Or try not to ship on a route where there is a heightened conflict risk zone.


10. Weather conditions at a time of loading

Not only the events during the voyage described in paragraph 1 may cause delays in delivery of goods. Strong wind, tropical storm, which exceeds the standards provided by the loading equipment of the terminal, can cause serious problems at the transshipment complex, which can affect the total time of delivery. Often, typhoons occur in Asia, and if your container will be among those on the terminal - see for yourself, can happen in such cases.



11. Taking part in rescue operations

The International Maritime Convention SOLAS (Safety Of Life at Sea) provides the universal practice of giving assistance at sea in case of distress. The vessel, which was as close as possible to the scene of the incident, is obliged to come to the rescue and the members of her crew must take due care of the wreck of another ship or of the people in danger. The Convention is now signed by each shipowner as complying with international shipping standards. And although it is worth to rejoice that in a civilized society there are the right things that are aimed at saving and helping others in distress, the response to SOS will certainly lead to the delay of your cargo.


12. Rescue of the crew members

In addition to the rescue operations there is also an internal situation on the ship, and there are cases of force majeure, associated with only one person who needs emergency assistance. In such events, there are obvious delays in taking due measures, and no one can affect these delays. As a rule, in such cases the delay does not exceed one day, because even if it is necessary to deliver the victim from the vessel - it will be carried out by separate transport; However, there are different situations (for example, a large distance of the vessel from the shore), when the operation can take longer.


13. Bankruptcy

In practice of world shipping there are also cases where there is no possibility to continue the voyage due to arrest of the vessel or financial problems. This can happen when the ship is under the Charter or when working with less-known small companies, whose financial reputation you could not verify. And though with the giants of the market, say, container transportations everyone works for many years, and at first sight nothing can herald troubles - yet it is hard to find someone who has not heard about bankruptcy of one of the largest shipping lines Hanjin.



14. Criminal record

Murder, smuggling or any other offenses related to crew - these cases are known in history. Perhaps your cargo is on board the ship of one of the most reliable shipping lines, with a select crew, and your shipments have been established for even more than a year - it should be remembered that the ship is still run by live people, who often change, and some of them are unpredictable. It is not necessary to write off the delays of the vessel for this reason.


15. Pirates

The danger of being captured by armed informal groups for ransom is not limited to the coast of Somalia. There are many cases of piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the coasts of India and Pakistan. The famous film "Captain Phillips" well illustrates the fall into the hands of pirates and possible consequences. And while all modern vessels, which follow high-risk areas, employ Armed Guards, it is still not a panacea; After all, the guard also accompanies the vessel only in a separate section of its route.



16. Pollution of port waters

Violation of the ecology by the fault of the vessel or crew, and as a consequence, arrest and loss of time is a frequent case and one of the situations described in paragraph 4. The vessel does not have to be a tanker to harm the ecology and the sea port waters. Even the smallest vessel has a stock of bunker fuel, measured by hundreds of tons, and also a certain volume of lubricants. In case of non-compliance with the safety precautions, negligence of the crew, or failure to perform routine maintenance and repairs of the vessel, the release of these substances may occur with a high probability - and the first thing thereafter the vessel will be arrested at least until damage is removed (about a month). With a considerable number of these incidents in history, they unfortunately continue to occur.


17. Vessel stability problems

This term should not be confused with sustainability. Due to the the cargo center of gravity shifting on the ship, engineering errors in the preparation of the cargo plan, the voyage parameters can deviate significantly from the norm, which at best will lead to changes in the seaworthiness of the ship and its speed. In the case of a critical violation of the stability ship will need to go to the nearest port for re-shifting. In the worst cases, history knows the tragic deaths of a ship with cargo.



18. Holidays and weekends

In today's world about 60% of all world terminals work without holidays and weekends, because the planning of work of ships and freight companies becomes more efficient and the profit of all parties involved increases. However, there is still a considerable number of ports where stops for the weekend take place, and this surely affects the speed of goods delivery. In ships chartering, there is even the concept of Sshex/Sshinc (Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays excluded/included) at which the days off and holidays are not taken into account of the laytime (no freight works) or taken (freight works are produced). Here we are talking about the technical work of the terminal, and not mentioning the work of customs and other port structures, which in almost 100% of cases do not work.


19. No free space on feeder

In this case, even a division of the bill of lading is possible. Containers are waiting for a new vessel in the port of transshipment, because the dispatch service of the line could not allocate space on the planned feeder. The reasons can be different, but as a rule it is connected with one certain reason which has caused an offset in a chart, and all consignors, whose bookings have been declared earlier of yours, should be sent on a feeder in a priority, and you will have to wait. Today, shipping lines try to fight such tendencies to avoid complaints from clients and not to cause additional expenses on storage/demurrage of containers.


20. Collision of ships

Collisions or wrecks are a specific definition under the SOLAS Convention and the Merchant Shipping codes of individual states. It can be considered as a particular case of general average. Hitting a boa also refers to such nature of collisions. One of the brightest examples is the collision of two large container ships in the Suez Canal in 2014 - Maersk Tanjong and Colombo Express, belonging to the Hapag Lloyd line. The consequences of such incidents in terms of the timing of delivery do not need explanation.



21. Passage of channels and narrownesses

It can be considered as one of the scenarios described in paragraph 5. Among the sea routes of the world there are not too many places with extremely limited capacity - and often it is artificial reservoirs, created or developed by man to provide navigation and international trade (Panama Canal, Suez Canal, etc.). As well as on highways, at passage of a channel a kind of congestion/cork can be formed due to high concentration of vessels that inevitably leads to deviation from schedule and delay of the vessel.



22. Congestion at port or terminal

This usually happens when the number of containers arrives at the port is huge (exceeding the norm with a reserve). In particular, this applies to transshipment ports, where the turnover of transit cargoes is much higher than import-export. Due to this phenomenon, the vessel is compelled to wait longer for the commencement of cargo operations until the work on the previous cargoes is completed.


23. Strikes

In many contracts for sea transportation in the section "Force majeure" it is necessary to mention strikes (along with military risks, storms and other actions of force majeure). It is no coincidence that all these events are near and grouped in one section-because they have a similar influence on the timing of delivery. Because of disagreements with the management and employees, often there are strikes in the ports (often in the ports of Europe as of the most recent), which inevitably leads to a halt of freight operations, and the impossibility of timely processing of the ship.


24. Customs inspection at the port of transshipment

As already stated in paragraph 8, if your cargo is coming from the port of origin to the destination port by indirect voyage (through one or more transshipment ports), the control standards may also be assigned in the intermediate ports in accordance with the legislation of the country in which This check is initiated. All costs of this verification will have to be paid by cargo owner. For example, customs authorities in the ports of the European Union very often choose containers for inspection.

It should not be forgotten that each Customs office has its own criteria for selection of containers for inspection, and as a rule, containers with products from risk groups or containers of the exporter, which has a bad reputation, are subject to inspection.


25. Overbookings and rollings

When after confirmation of the booking the line unilaterally "cuts" your containers from loading and roll them to the next vessel - this reason bears the name "overbooking of the vessel", i.e. there is not enough space on the vessel on the actual date to immerse your planned containers. For example, this is the most common reason for cargo delays in Ukraine during export, especially in the cereal season.

It would seem that we live in high technology times, when the resale of space on the ship - all this has long been sunk into oblivion and is a relic of the past. Alas, but similar happens in our time, and the special actuality it acquires in seasons of holidays, for example in the Chinese New Year, or before the beginning of Christmas.



I can give advice: if you can, try to avoid peak seasons. If you just urgently need to send a cargo at this time, then categorically do not recommend to use the services of small and unknown carriers. Their prices will be lower, but in such "very busy" seasons, they simply will not be able to cope with the volume. More solid carriers, in turn, when any problems occur, can use larger vessels from different trade routes.


As you can see, there are many common causes of cargo delay. Only 25 of them we have collected in this review. If you only run your import or export business - you are lucky enough to read this article, because each item was dramatically built on the own experience. And now you can make a more informed decision regarding the terms, suppliers, routes, etc.

If you have something to add to the list and warn other colleagues - write about it in our chat, as well as subscribe to the official channel to know what happens and together learn from other people's mistakes.

Logistics expert with over 20 years of shipping experience 

Recordsman in Ukrainian FCL turnover

Shipping & IT architect

SeaRates inspirator and visionary