Sea freight prices current: effect of factors

Sea freight prices current: effect of factors

Compared to many other means of transport, sea freight prices are currently by far the cheapest way to ship goods of all kinds around the globe. Of course, it is also probably the slowest option, because compared to airplanes, trains or even trucks, large container ships are often on the road for a lot longer. While the longest passage flights today take around 20 hours and, for example, run from Great Britain to Australia, almost 20,000 km away, large container ships can easily be on the move for several weeks or months.

  • Of course, this is also reflected in the current sea freight prices: at around €0.5 per kg weight, this option is much cheaper than air freight.
  • At around €4 for a normal kilogram of air freight, this is eight times as expensive as sea freight. Express air freight is correspondingly even more expensive.

However, sea freight prices can currently only be predicted precisely if all the important details of a route are known. The supply of shipping lines and containers is also subject to certain fluctuations, so that costs can rise or fall depending on supply and demand. In 2021, following the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, ocean freight has recovered somewhat and is heading towards pre-crisis levels. It is not possible to accurately predict how ocean freight prices will continue to evolve currently and in the future.

Global economic growth, geopolitical security and, of course, possible changes in global supply lines play an important role in current ocean freight prices. In the next section, we will look at how ocean freight prices currently turn out for large ocean freight shipments (such as relocations or entire container shipments). Here you have the choice between two different container types, regardless of the weight of your cargo.

Current sea freight prices: Full container load or divided cargo hold?

As you have probably seen a large container ship live on the spot or at least in movies or on TV, you might have noticed the thousands of colorful containers that find a place on such an ocean liner. These come in two standard sizes:

  • 20 ft ISO container
  • 40 ft ISO container

In addition, the 40 ft containers are also available as so-called high cube containers. At 2.9 m, these are somewhat higher than the usual standard containers, which are 2.59 m high. They are particularly suitable for bulky goods, but are of course more expensive.

Depending on their size, the empty weight of steel containers is between 2.5 and 4.3 tons. The maximum payload for a 40-foot container is around 27,500 kg, while a 20-foot container can even be loaded with up to 28,300 kg despite its smaller size. On the one hand, this is due to the lower empty weight, the stable construction and, of course, the load capacity of the loading cranes.

However, the current sea freight prices depend on two factors. For example, it currently plays a role for sea freight prices whether you pay a shipping company for an entire container as a so-called full container load for your own purposes, or whether you secure, for example, space units or pallets via a transport service provider. The latter option is always a little more expensive, but worthwhile, since only rarely can entire containers actually be filled.

The current sea freight prices are initially calculated on the assumption of a transport from “port-to-port”, i.e. from port to port. Further costs such as shipment and collection at the ports as well as handling costs are not yet included here.

Basically, sea freight prices currently consist of the following components:

  • The sea freight prices of a shipping company, which can sometimes fluctuate daily.
  • The handling costs of the ports in which the containers are loaded and unloaded.
  • The own logistic costs for the shipment of the containers
  • And, depending on the country of origin and the commodity, additional costs for the correct customs clearance and declaration of the goods

If the use of a container is carried out proportionally through a logistics company, this component, of course, additionally influences the sea freight prices at present. Possible additional costs, which currently influence the sea freight prices, are handling costs. Especially in ports with little demand, the return of containers is associated with additional charges, while this is rarely the case at larger ports. Finally, it should also be noted that there may be additional costs for renting a container.

Why are sea freight prices currently rising so sharply?

If we ask ourselves why sea freight prices are currently rising sharply, two aspects in particular are largely responsible for this. First, the Corona pandemic in early 2020 caused a global economic standstill, and companies, shipping companies, and all other links in the value chain reacted quickly. Manufacturing capacities as well as transport capacities were shut down overnight to avoid potential empty runs and expenses. This is why sea freight prices are currently rising so sharply.

Secondly, sea freight prices are currently rising sharply because the balance between imports and exports between Europe and Asia has suffered as a result of the pandemic. While China had sufficient container capacity before the pandemic, it is now severely limited. The reason for this is that the containers are currently still in large numbers in Europe and must first find their way back to Asia. Despite the limited availability of containers, the purchasing power and willingness to buy is recovering and thus the bottlenecks are being met by high demand. As a result, ocean freight prices are currently particularly high.

  • In some economic sectors, however, the decision to stop production was made far too quickly in retrospect. Best example: The lack of semiconductors for car production
  • Even though the pandemic is far from being defeated, many signs point to recovery. A certain catch-up effect is also setting in, which means that even more products are currently being ordered than was the case before the pandemic.
  • However, transport capacities cannot be reactivated overnight, so that further increases in sea freight prices for containers can currently be expected.

How long this increase in sea freight prices will last is, as so often, uncertain. Thus, sea freight prices can currently rise and fall tomorrow. Instead of trying to wait for the right moment, companies should calculate their current sea freight prices in such a way that there is sufficient buffer or that the costs for freight and transport are (at least partially) also borne by the customers.

Our logistics company is at your disposal in all matters concerning sea freight prices, just contact us!

ECL Kontor is an international logistics company established in 2004 with roots in customs clearance and transport organisation.


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