Hanjin Shipping has usurped Maersk Line as the most reliable major carrier (defined as having a minimum of 100 voyage counts in a quarter) with an all-trades on-time average of 90.2% in the fourth quarter, according to Drewry’s latest report, Carrier Performance Insight.

Containership reliability overall reached a new record high in Q4 2012 with the percentage of on-time ship arrivals across all trades increasing to 79.9%, a rise of 6.4 percentage points on Q3 and eclipsing the previous best of 75.7% set in the second quarter of 2012.

The latest on-time score also means that the on-time percentage stayed in the 70-80% range for the whole of 2012, whereas previously it had not gone above 69% in any quarter since Drewry started measuring ship reliability at the end of 2005.

The analyst said container-level data showed similar gain, with all four main container key performance indicators (KPIs) improving by at least two percentage points in the fourth quarter. Most significantly, the “On-Time Shipment of Cargo” KPI, which measures the timeliness of a container being loaded on to the ship, improved by six percentage points to 75%.

Drewry said delays at the box loading stage of the supply chain inevitably have a knock-on effect and while an overall improvement was seen in the fourth quarter it was highly probable that the average would come down in the first quarter 2013 as cancelled sailings played havoc with operations.

Simon Heaney, research manager at Drewry, said: “While carriers deserve some plaudits for their improving reliability, a worrying trend for cancelled or blank voyages is emerging as carriers attempt to redress weak supply and demand fundamentals.”

Drewry said it was hearing of shippers building specific clauses into contracts to alleviate the potential disruption of missed sailings by committing volumes against actual services rather than a carrier, as is standard practice.

Blank voyages are making life tougher for shippers, who already have to contend with the looming threat of strike action at US east and Gulf Coast ports.

“It is important for carrier-shipper relations that at the very least lines keep their customers informed well ahead of time, especially if they want to justify future general rate increases. It is difficult to make the case for rate hikes when the customer service is deteriorating,” said Heaney.

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