What is a Blank sailing..??

  • Trans-Pacific carriers accelerate blank sailings
  • More blank sailings spell volatility for trans-Pacific
  • AE2-blank-sailing-announcement-Europe-Services – Maersk
  • Falling US imports spell more trans-Pacific blankings
  • Soft demand and falling rates push 2M to blank another Asia-USEC sailing
  • Ocean Alliance to Blank Ten Transpacific Sailings as Spot Rates Plummet

These are some of the headlines you might have seen across many media, all with one common factor “blank sailings“..

What is this blank sailing and how does it impact or influence global container shipping..??

A Liner Service is a service that operates within the parameters of a sailing schedule, with a fixed port rotation and published dates of calls at advertised ports..

A sailing schedule has a list of ships that operate in that service, its voyage number for each call, the ETA and ETD dates and the ports of calls..

Due to various reasons, a liner service operator might decide to cancel the call of a vessel at a certain port or certain region, or the entire leg..

When that happens, that particular port/region/entire route will have a “blank sailing” which simply means that for that week or fortnight or month (depending on the frequency of the liner service) that area will not have a vessel to discharge or load cargo..


When there are blank sailings, the line usually announces it on their sailing schedule so the customers can plan their shipments accordingly..

blank sailing - shipping and freight resource

This blank sailing is a normal occurrence on various shipping routes but something that many people, especially the customers do not understand in terms of its logic or why it happens..

What are the reasons for blank sailings..??

A liner service is allocated a specified number of days to complete a full rotation covering all the ports of call on the schedule..

Each port on the service is allocated a specific number of days for the discharge and loading operation..

Only if the time frames at each port are met, the service can maintain its schedule integrity (ensure that the vessel calls the scheduled ports on the scheduled dates)..

Sometimes the vessel might not be able to stick to this specific number of days due to weather delays, strikes, non-availability of berth at the port etc..

In such cases, in order to maintain the schedule integrity, some of the ports on the route may be skipped..

Example : Liner service from Singapore – Santos – Durban – Hong Kong..

image for container ship

As per the ship’s schedule it will

  • Sail from Santos on the 31st March to
  • Arrive in Durban on the 10th of April
  • Sail from Durban on the 12th of April to
  • Arrive Hong Kong on the 30th of April

However, due to weather delays in Santos which affected its berthing, the vessel is expected to berth in Santos only on the 4th of April..

This 5 day delay cannot be adjusted because the schedule integrity has to be maintained and the ship may need to reach Hong Kong on the 30th of April as Hong Kong is a main transhipment hub for the shipping line and a lot of containers may be compromised..

Therefore, a decision might be taken to skip Durban port altogether in order to make up for the delay.. This means that the cargo planned to be loaded from Santos for discharge in Durban will now be loaded only on the next vessel – maybe a week later and the same for the cargo already planned to be loaded in Durban for loading to Far East..

So for that week in April, Durban will have a blank sailing as the vessel has skipped its port call..

Image for blank sailing There are also a few other compelling reasons for blank sailing and those are

  1. Urgent repairs that can be carried out only at a certain port
  2. Ship has to be off-hired for some reason
  3. There is a severe berthing delay at a port due to a strike or port closure

While the above reasons are incidental, there are also “planned” blank sailings in some cases..

One of the reasons that carriers plan blank sailings is to reduce capacity on certain trade lanes and services..

Recently, Trans-Pacific carriers had to cancel several sailings to reduce eastbound TEU capacity due to a steep drop in demand caused by Lunar New Year in Asia..

You might have seen announcements from the carriers as below

MSC would like to inform customer about an additional blank sailing during week 14 to rationalize capacity supply from Asia to the US East Coast due to the slower demand after the Chinese New Year.

JOC reported that carriers operating to the USA West Coast reduced 222,600 TEUs while on the East Coast 127,300 TEUs were removed.. As per SeaIntelligence, carriers on the Asia to the West Coast route announced cancellation of 22 sailings in a 3 week period coinciding with the Lunar New Year..

The blank sailings were required to bring the overcapacity in line with the average volumes of recent years.. Such reduction in overcapacity is in some cases also designed to create an increase in rates which the carriers use as leverage during contract negotiations..

As per JOC, in 2018, carriers were forced to accept extremely low spot rates of around $1,200/40′ to the West Coast and $2,200/40′ to the East Coast..

But the front-loading of cargo started a rate frenzy that saw West Coast spot rates rise from $945/40′ in March to $2,606/40′ in November and East Coast spot rates surge from $1,933/40′ in March to $3,739/40′ in November..

Neither the carriers nor the shippers or forwarders can accept such rate volatility as this is neither sustainable nor healthy for anyone..

In such cases, reducing overcapacity on the route using blank sailings to bring rates in line with everyone’s expectation is seen as a realistic option..

So what is the solution for blank sailing..?? 

Well there is no real concrete solution for blank sailing as it is caused by market dynamics which affects supply and demand of space on the ships and also the resultant rate actions..

In most cases, blank sailing may even be a necessary evil required to allow the market situation to correct itself..

If it is a planned blank sailing, all that the shipping lines can do is to announce these blank sailings as early as possible and advise customers and all that the shippers can do is to plan their shipments in such a way as to avoid blank sailings..

What has been your experience with a blank sailing..?? How did it affect your business..??

 

Above post from 2014 republished with a few updates..

 

*** End of Article ***

21 thoughts on “What is a Blank sailing..??”

  1. Thank your for useful and informative post.
    The ship’s voyage might also include stops for routine bunkering and other maintenance of the vessel.

    Reply
  2. There are blank sailings in July, August, September, October 2019 ex China origins services.
    Carrier issue 1 month notice.

    The impact to my client will be shipment delay and or higher shipping cost when catching alternative sailing available.

    But always try to offer some alternative solutions.

    Reply
  3. Blank sailing affects customer adverse it even it’s really difficult to handle customer but we have to provide the evidence regarding circumstances that
    Cause blank sailing such as conjustion weather conditions and shipping line notification etc.

    Reply
  4. And the cargo loaded at Sin for discharge at Durban must be discharged at Santos, and waiting for coming vessel loaded for discharge at Durban.

    Reply
  5. Can be blank sailing also skipping whole one vessel in week (e.g. when there is scheduled for departure one vessel per week for current service and due to some reason – e.g. Chinese holidays one vessel is skipped?)

    Reply
    • Hello, I am a little bit late but.. can we have an answer to the question above? Does your example mean the goods that were loaded in Singapore for unloading in Durban will be unloaded in Santos in order to wait the next vessel? If so, who is responsible to pay the extra port cost? (One more unloading/loading).

      Thank you for your answer

    • The containers are unloaded at another port along the way and picked up by the next vessel. Extra cost covered by SSL.

  6. I came to this website from here : http://shipandbunker.com/news/world/325573-maersk-line-profits-more-than-triple-in-2013 after reading about how maersk managed to have profits despite dropping prices and didn’t understand what blanked sailing meant.
    Quote: “To minimize the impact of the low and volatile freight rate environment Maersk Line continued to absorb capacity by active capacity adjustments throughout the year in the form of idling, slow steaming, and blanked sailings”

    Thanks for the article, it was very helpful.

    Reply
  7. If the shipping line announces a blank sailing in advance , its called a Blank Sailing program . Is that correct? otherwise its an omission of a call ..

    Reply
  8. Dear Hariesh and all readers,

    Blank sailing may be the omission of a full rotation also. this happens a lot before and during the chinese good year as ex. this period being a low export period some carriers may ‘cancel’ some sailing for a full rotation.
    For some interested, you may search ‘blank sailing’ on cma-cgm website and you’ll see how it is announced by a shipping line
    Vincent

    Reply

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