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Are Blank Sailings Here to Stay?

November 30, 2023

It’s no secret that today’s volatile freight market is taking a significant toll on the global transportation industry. From layoffs to route cancellations, the freight market is causing transportation professionals throughout the industry to feel the burn.

With layoffs and mergers and acquisitions grabbing headlines, shippers can quickly lose sight of a less-discussed — yet more disruptive — force in the global transportation industry: blank sailings. Facing a downturn in freight, ocean carriers are turning to blank sailings to lower operational spend. But what is an effective efficiency measure for carriers is a nightmare for shippers, who find themselves suddenly without a means to transport high-stakes ocean freight.

With industry forecasts indicating that blank sailings could be here for the long haul, it’s time for shippers to take a long, hard look at their operations and find innovative strategies to navigate the rise in blank sailings. 

Blank Sailing 101: Who, What, and Why

Before we can understand why carriers choose blank sailings as their go-to strategy in navigating falling volumes, we must understand why blank sailings occur. Also known as void sailings, blank sailings arise when a carrier decides to skip a port, section, or entire portion of a given sailing.

The reasoning behind this decision on the carrier's part is that forgoing ports can help save on operational spend, which has increased in recent years compared to plummeting freight rates. In other words, blank sailings occur when a given port of call is no longer economically worthwhile for a carrier in the context of lower freight rates and high operational spend. 

But while blank sailings help carriers navigate a difficult freight market, they can leave shippers with little option but to let freight fester at port. Let’s examine how blank sailings can affect a shipper’s operations.

  • Lower Service Levels: Today’s customers have higher-than-ever expectations for OTIF delivery. According to reporting from Forbes, 90% of customers expect two-to-three-day shipping to be standard. When a blank sailing occurs, it can prevent goods from reaching fulfillment centers, and thus leave businesses to cope with lower inventory levels. With low inventory levels, retailers struggle to provide customers with the fast, effective shipping they demand. 
  • Port Fees: After a blank sailing, it can be difficult for shippers to secure the capacity to transport freight. Especially in an ocean freight industry that’s seeing decreased service levels across the board, shippers can often find themselves waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) for capacity. In this time, however, shippers can quickly find themselves saddled with high-dollar port charges like per diem charges, demurrage, and detention fees. 
  • Production Chaos: It’s not just retailers that need to worry about blank sailings. For manufacturers, blank sailings can lead to sudden shortages of raw materials. These shortages can lead to significant manufacturing slowdowns.

As blank sailings continue to take their toll upon shippers, many in the global transportation industry are casting a worried eye to the horizon. As the ocean freight market continues to struggle, shippers are wondering if blank sailings are a passing trend, or if they’re here to stay. 

Shippers Ask, Are Blank Sailings Here to Stay?

Blank sailings result from stark economic realities: as volumes fall, it becomes less and less worthwhile for carriers to stop at ports. Unfortunately for shippers, recent analyses bring only grim predictions. Recent increases in volume in Asia-U.S. trade lanes have little staying power, according to reporting from FreightWaves. The Loadstar predicts that additional capacity added to the market in the second half of the year will only drive rates down.

With an unfavorable freight market only set to get worse in the coming months, these harsh economic truths will likely continue to spur an increase in blank sailings. With little relief from blank sailings in sight, it’s time for shippers to find innovative, sustainable solutions to the problem of blank sailings. 

With Blank Sailings Seemingly Here to Stay, Shippers Turn to Ocean Freight Visibility

Increasingly, shippers are turning to real-time ocean freight visibility to push back against blank sailings. With real-time ocean freight visibility, shippers can monitor container status and location in real time, providing a bird’s-eye view over all ocean freight operations. The insights from ocean freight visibility software can quickly be shared with transportation partners through an ocean freight visibility application programming interface (API). Ocean freight visibility, coupled with the unbridled collaboration capabilities of an API, provides shippers with unprecedented resilience against blank sailings.

  • Real-Time Visibility helps shippers keep an eye on all container operations, meaning that when a blank sailing occurs, shippers aren’t left scrambling to account for their freight.
  • Streamlined Collaboration ensures that shippers can quickly share vital information with transportation providers to find the capacity to navigate blank sailings.
  • Optimized Processes mean that shippers no longer have to spend time on outdated track and trace processes and can instead access real-time container location on-demand, whenever and wherever operations demand. 

While nothing but a nigh-miraculous reversal of fortunes for the freight market can prevent blank sailings altogether, shippers who use API-enabled ocean freight visibility software stand to weather the effects of blank sailings and come out unscathed, all while streamlining operations and bolstering resilience for tomorrow. 

With Proprietary Rolled Cargo Alerts, OpenTrack Provides Shippers with Much-Needed Resilience

Ocean freight visibility software provides shippers with unparalleled insight into supply chains. However, to ensure maximum reactivity against blank sailing in shipping, shippers must build tech stacks that remain vigilant around the clock. With proprietary rolled cargo alerts from OpenTrack, shippers are alerted the moment a blank sailing affects operations, ensuring maximum reactivity and resilience in the face of blank sailings. With OpenTrack, proprietary rolled cargo alerts are just one tool in a robust toolkit of ocean freight visibility software assets.

  • Real-Time Ocean Container Tracking 
  • Integrated Intermodal Visibility
  • Streamlined API Integration

With coverage of 97% of ocean freight shipments, OpenTrack is the transportation industry’s choice for unparalleled ocean freight visibility. Book a demo with OpenTrack today, and see what freight visibility made simple means for your business. 

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