LONDON: When the Maersk Tanjong set sail from Thailand on December 2, headed towards the Suez Canal to reach the U.S. East Coast, it was carrying cargo for retailers and clothing brands including Walmart, H&M, Adidas and ASOS, import and shipping data shows.
On December 17, it turned south to circumnavigate Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, after Maersk paused sending vessels to the Suez through the Red Sea, where Houthi attacks on shipping have triggered delays, costs and uncertainty across global consumer and retail markets.
The diversion added thousands of miles and five days to the Tanjong’s trip to Norfolk, Virginia. The loop around Africa adds around $1 million in extra fuel for to a trip to northern Europe, according to LSEG data.
Cargo ranging from raw prawns to high-end sneakers and plastic tubes was aboard Tanjong and three other diverted container vessels. Reuters was able to establish the containers’ contents by cross-referencing U.S. import data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Panjiva with a list of rerouted ships provided by tracking platform ShipsGo.
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The reporting provides a glimpse of the sheer range of products carried in some of the hundreds of thousands of containers on more than 500 ships caught up in a crisis that shows little sign of abating.
Iranian-backed Houthi fighters, who control much of Yemen, have launched wave after wave of exploding drones and missiles at Western commercial vessels in the Red Sea since Nov. 19, in what they say is a protest against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
The attacks follow a series of blows to the idea of seamless global trade, including rising protectionism, the COVID pandemic and climate-driven drought affecting the Panama Canal. The latest disruption could accelerate a shift towards shorter supply chains, often called “nearshoring,” five executives and industry consultants told Reuters.
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Responding to the prospect of a months-long crisis, some companies are already combining air, rail and sea shipping, ordering goods earlier and using factories closer to home, the five sources said.
Two shipping experts said such changes could have a long-term knock-on effect on how willing companies are to rely on the 154-year-old Suez Canal, which suffered a total blockage in 2021 that Maersk estimated cost $9 billion a day in lost trade.
Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, which had products including clothes on the Tanjong, told Reuters it was adjusting its supply chain “to help manage the recent shifts in shipping routes” and was focused on “maintaining inventory availability.” It declined to provide details of the adjustments.