Who do you rely on for container tracking data?

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Oct 10, 2019

Author: Santosh


There was a time when container lines had over 90% punctuality levels. But in the first nine months of 2018, for example, on-time arrivals ranged from 65-76% according to SeaIntelligence statistics. In recent times that year was no exception.

Even if a container ship arrives on time, there is a high chance it will have been preceded by other ships that were days late.

A container ship’s late arrival usually results in a delayed delivery to a retail customer. A high frequency of late arrivals necessitates higher inventories being built into supply chains to offset delays in incoming container shipments. Even if a container ship arrives on time, there is a high chance it will have been preceded by other ships that were days late. In such cases, the knock-on effect for customers with on-time containers is just as negative. Punctual containers cannot be picked up since the terminal is full of export containers and empties that should have left days before. This is why ocean freight visibility has become such a critical issue. Now more than ever before, shippers need to be informed as early as possible about whether a container is going to arrive late, and if so by how much.

Image by Patrick Baum from Pixabay

Punctual containers cannot be picked up since the terminal is full of export containers and empties that should have left days before.

If liner schedules gave reliable information on when a container is likely to arrive, there would be no cause for concern. But they don’t. And it is hardly far-fetched to speculate that carriers are not even that bothered about telling their customers just how late their container ships are running. After all, it is hardly good publicity for the carrier in question and can negatively impact future business. Historically, carriers have been bad at delivering accurate information on a container’s location. Is there any good reason to believe they will suddenly up their game? With more and more shippers now turning to third-party data sources for reliable ETA information, the answer to that question seems obvious.

Third-party sources incorporate a wide range of data beyond what carriers report, e.g. AIS vessel data, port and terminal data at origin and destination, weather reports, seasonal information, and historical data to determine any significant patterns. The outcome is, on the one hand, predictive insights into the reliability of specific sailing schedules, and on the other hand, a prediction of when a vessel is likely to arrive. Whereas the industry standard for ETAs relies on ocean carrier schedules and updates, third-party data providers use predictive analytics based on multiple data sources and machine learning to recalculate ETAs. This dynamic approach is in clear contrast and significantly superior to the reactive, static approach of the industry standard.

Image by Alexander Kliem from Pixabay

Historically, carriers have been bad at delivering accurate information on a container’s location.

This predictive approach is also being used to model extra-vessel events at a port, e.g. seasonality and congestion, so shippers can be better informed about how fast a shipment will be handled once the container ship arrives. All in all, the overall advantage of relying on third-party data specialists rather than carrier information is that shippers profit from greater visibility and can thus schedule their ocean freight and ongoing land-based logistics more effectively and efficiently. Accurate container tracking brings benefits along the entire logistics value chain – even to carriers, as they can look forward to fewer frustrated shippers.

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