Shipping | Year in Review: Nine stories which shaped shipping in 2021 – Part I

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Much like the year that preceded it, 2021 saw numerous challenges in the maritime industry, often characterised by the coronavirus pandemic. As it stands, many of these issues will continue into the new year, as will COVID-19, with their impact on shipping to persist for some time yet.

While many look forward to the coming year, we take time to review the events that helped shape the industry locally, regionally and across the world this year.



Perhaps one of the worst-hit areas of industry since the onset of the pandemic is container shipping. While cargo ship operators have managed to cash in on the shortage of containers, which has seen container shipping costs increase as much as fivefold, the result has been disastrous for retailers and consumers, who are feeling the impact of the higher prices. A backlog of vessels at key North American ports, particularly in the Los Angeles and Long Beach terminals, added to the bottleneck of ships already in queues due to the pandemic-driven slowdown in the supply chain.


The arrival of the Carnival Sunrise to the Ocho Rios Cruise Terminal on August 16 was a celebratory moment for the tourism sector. The ship’s arrival with more than 1,700 passengers, over 90 per cent of whom were vaccinated against COVID-19, signalled the end of the gruelling 17-month wait since the sector’s halt by the pandemic. Since then, the Ministry of Tourism has indicated that some 300,000 cruise passengers will visit Jamaica by year end, with the reopening of all cruise terminals expected at that time.



For almost a week in March, the Ever Given container ship blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt after it ran aground, preventing the passage of hundreds of ships and causing a major disruption to global trade. For six days, the Ever Given was lodged in the popular waterway as round-the-clock work was done to remove over one million cubic feet of sand and mud from around its bow and stern to free the 220,000-tonne ship, one of the world’s largest container vessels.



A convergence of factors in the industry has seen freight rates drastically increase over the past year and a half. With the pandemic-driven slowdown in 2020, many shippers reduced freight, in keeping with the lower demand. But as many parts of the world experience an economic recovery and demand grows, coupled with a shortage of containers, freight rates increased substantially. While some analysts say this surge will end, it is likely to remain for several more months.



The review of the Customs Act of 2019, which is intended to repeal and replace the act of 1941, continues to be placed under the microscope by those in the local shipping industry. With a Joint Select Committee of Parliament reviewing the 200-plus pages of the act, the Jamaican maritime community collectively waits for the result of its input and ongoing dialogue.


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