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International Forwarding Association Blog » Sea freight in Europe » Adaptive Strategies for Sea Freight Amid Disruptions and Weather Challenges

Adaptive Strategies for Sea Freight Amid Disruptions and Weather Challenges

In the complex world of sea freight in Europe, carriers face constant challenges from disruptions. Embracing strategies like route and fleet diversification and forming strategic alliances enables them to navigate these uncertainties with agility and resilience. This, in turn, allows freight forwarders to maintain operational continuity, adapt to changing conditions, and meet clients’ needs with reliability.


Route and Port Diversification

One effective strategy for mitigating the impact of disruptions is to diversify shipping routes and ports of call. By avoiding over-reliance on a single route or port, companies can reduce risks when a specific area is affected.

The drought on the Rhine in 2021 shows the importance of having alternative shipping options ready when unexpected challenges arise. When water levels between Koblenz and Rotterdam dropped to critically low points in the summer, it became difficult for larger and heavier ships to move safely. Although the waterway remained navigable, vessels had to operate at partial capacity, which interrupted the normal flow of goods.

In situations like these, carriers must seek alternative routes and ports to keep their supply chains running smoothly. This might mean directing shipments along different waterways or to hubs like the Port of Antwerp or Port of Genoa.

Furthermore, disruptions like the Rhine drought show that ground forwarders must quickly adapt to changing sea freight dynamics. This could mean adjusting land transportation routes, reallocating resources to different regions, or navigating various regulatory requirements across European countries.


Fleet Diversification

Fleet diversification involves maintaining a mix of ships capable of handling various sea conditions. This approach allows carriers to adapt to seasonal weather challenges in regions such as the North Sea and the Mediterranean.

In response to the stormy winters of the North Sea, carriers have the option to deploy smaller, agile ships that can navigate rough waters more safely. Conversely, during calmer seasonal periods in the Mediterranean, they can use larger vessels that can carry more cargo over greater distances with efficiency.

For European logistics providers, this strategy translates into enhanced reliability. Despite the variability of sea conditions, they can rely on carriers to ensure consistent, timely, and efficient movement of cargo.


Strategic Alliances

Strategic alliances and partnerships have proven to be vital during disruptions, as shown by the container shortages and port congestions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carriers in alliances were able to share container stocks and coordinate vessel deployments more efficiently than those working independently.

The ability to share containers among members ensured that a carrier with a shortage could quickly access surplus containers from another member. On vessel deployment, carriers that coordinated their planning could exchange insights on port conditions. This collective intelligence allowed them to effectively identify less congested ports and reroute their ships accordingly.

The impact of such strategic alliances is significant for freight forwarders. They provide a level of service continuity and reliability, which allows them to maintain operations and meet their clients’ needs despite challenging conditions.