2021; a year of supply chain challenges



All around the world, companies have been impacted by supply chain challenges in 2021. With the pandemic’s disruption exacerbated by ‘Black Swan events’, from Brexit, to the Suez Canal blockage, we have been working tirelessly to help our customers overcome these challenges and share critical information, so that they are always informed of what lies ahead.

Ensuring the right product is available for delivery, to the right customer, at the right time, in the right quantity and in the right condition becomes increasingly difficult when supply chains are pressured and unforeseen events impact operations.

To keep our customers and followers informed during 2021 we have been approached for our opinions regularly by the trade and national press, contributed to countless articles and shared breaking supply chain news, guides and insights, including:

  • 40 supply chain bulletins, to a combined audience of 32,000
  • 200 news updates on our web site attracting >100K page views
  • 1000+ social media posts, reaching over a quarter of a million users

Our first bulletin of 2021 highlighted early Brexit-related issues and outlined the rates, vessel space and equipment availability challenges that lay ahead.

A few bulletins in and we were considering the supply chain impact of the UK’s vaccine programme and, in preparation for the anticipated volume increases, were adding new personnel in key operational departments.

US port operations, particularly on the West Coast began to buckle under relentless volumes in early March, while European, North American and UK ports were anticipating a lull after the Evergreen EverGiven blocked the Suez Canal for six days, from the 23rd March. 

Lockdowns continued to ripple across Asia from April and container equipment shortages really began to bite, exacerbated by the ‘Suez Effect’, driving desperate shippers to move urgent cargo to air freight, with massive rate increases impacting many trade lanes and Metro’s Sea/Air services proving very popular with increasing numbers of smarter shippers.

May; and the same week we’re urging shippers to start planning their Christmas shipping schedules, the key Chinese port of Yantian stops accepting containers, after a coronavirus outbreak in the port area. Within weeks and the impact of the port’s closure has spread way beyond southern China, with carriers recording their worst ever transit times and rates at historic highs – 1,000% higher than 2020!

News of the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver shortage made mainstream news in June and Yantian finally opened, though Ningbo was to close just weeks later, after a single port worker tested positive for COVID-19, contributing to further sea freight rates increases, pushing increasing quantities of ‘distressed’ ocean cargo to air freight.

Throughout the year, while air freight has been uncertain, it has proven stable in comparison to shipping, with airlines being reactive and agile, switching on flights quickly to meet demand, where they have perceived a reasonable return on the investment and we have been ready to add charter capacity, to ensure that our customers’ expectations are met and delivery deadlines achieved.

Into the 3rd quarter and vessel space and the container equipment crunch continues, with market demand exceeding supply and rates skyrocketing. HGV drivers are considering strikes for better conditions, while demand for haulage is more than twice the 2019 level and 70% of hauliers are concerned about EU border checks due to come into force at the beginning of next year.

Metro’s technology team, meanwhile, have been integrating HMRC’s Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which will serve as the UK’s single customs platform, with our market-leading MVT supply chain platform and the CuDoS system, which automates and submits customs declarations in line with HMRC and EU regimes.

Our team also supported the development and adoption of emerging technology, across the shipping industry, by participating in the successful testing of new e-Bill of Lading (eFBL) standards, with FIATA , the trade association for 40,000 freight forwarding and logistics firms in 150 countries.

The final quarter of 2021 and the HGV driver shortage is intensified by further losses to the retail sector, factories in China are forced to close, due to power shortages, container carrier reliability drops to all-time lows, with ports subsequently omitted, to try and restore schedules.

Passenger airlines finally begin to convert and reduce the number of aircraft operated in ‘preighter’ configurations and return to flying scheduled passenger services on European, transatlantic and long-haul routes. 

As the year draws to a close, experts warn that the UK may run out of warehouse space, many shippers are still not ready for full UK border controls, manufacturing costs reach a three decade high, Omicron makes its debut and we share some Critical Christmas considerations.

This year we have also welcomed 60 new colleagues, to our Birmingham HQ and expanded our operations and platforms significantly, to ensure we deliver continued excellence, proactive communication and essential planning to customers. It’s what we do, to ensure we remain at the forefront of the industry, leading the evolution of freight and the dynamic solutions that benefit your supply chains.

However this year ends and whatever next year brings, you can rest assured that we will be available and ready to keep your supply chain running. Let’s keep talking and evolving as partners in an unpredictable environment and world. You are in safe hands!

Thank you for your support, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.