China development boom triggers surge in congestion at major ports

AN analysis of vessel congestion and delays at Chinese ports shows that the situation is extremely fluid resulting in different situations weekly, according to a report in Lloyd's Shipping Economist (LSE).

It says anecdotal reports indicate that current port congestion commenced in the south as foreign ships began to arrive to discharge steel products destined for the burgeoning building projects of the southern Chinese enterprise zones.

Despite the massive investment in port infrastructure in recent years, China had not been able to cope with the rising volumes of commodity imports - notably steel products which have doubled between 1991 and 1992, it adds.

LSE editor Deborah Seyman, said: ''The delays had sometimes to do with the inland distribution and that sometimes caused some of the bottlenecks. It could also be due to delays in the railway transportation system.'' The publication says that first reports of congestion came in November last year from Huangpu and Guangzhou.

''Ships were diverted further south to Haikou on Hainan Island, and to Zhanjiang, Beihai and Fangcheng.

By February these ports were nearly blocked and vessels were being routed to the north,'' it said.

The publication, which analysed the problem using Lloyd's of London Press data, bulletins from the World Marine Corporation, and specialists in Chinese port supervision, says by mid-May the situation was severe.

World Marine reported that 94 vessels were waiting to discharge steel products at the main ports of Huangpu, Shanghai, Tianjin-Xingang and Zhangjiagang in May, compared with between 30 and 50 a month earlier.

LSE says that by mid-June discharge times were just 10 to 15 days at Shanghai.

''While this evidence suggests that the bottlenecks may not have been widespread until April and May, LSE has analysed the callings of 10,000 to 45,000 deadweight tonne (dwt) dry bulk carriers at the ports of Shanghai, Huangpu, Fangcheng and Zhangjiagangduring the first four months of 1993 and 1992,'' it said.

It added that an increase in port time was observed, but perhaps not to the extent anticipated.

The average waiting time spent at, or off, China rose to 24 days in the first quarter of this year, compared with 19 days a year earlier.

Detailed analysis of vessels calling at Shanghai revealed a substantial increase in the average voyage length and total tonne-mile demand generated between the two periods - the latter increasing by a massive 41.8 per cent.

to 6.63 billion-tonne per mile between 1992 and last year.