Thai exporters say they have been harmed by a continuous surge in freight rates even as shipping companies have saved fuel costs through a practice called "slow steaming".
Paiboon Ponsuwanna, an honorary adviser to the Thai National Shippers' Council (TNSC), said most carriers are running vessels at slower speeds to cut fuel consumption.
The practice allows large ships to increase volume by 40% for each trip, but the heavier weight results in a longer time to deliver the goods.
Mr Paiboon said while carriers can lower fuel consumption by up to 80%, they also have been trying to increase freight rates and surcharges.
According to a 2009 paper on the fuel surcharge practices of container lines by Theo Notteboom and Pierre Cariou, slow steaming refers to operational speeds of 18-20 knots or between 33.3 and 37 km/h compared with a normal speed of 20-25 knots (between 37 and 46.3 km/h).
"This has resulted in delivery delays of four to seven days, which I think is a lot and could have a significant impact, especially on consumer products," said TNSC vice-chairman Vallop Vitanakorn.
He said shipments to Europe take 31 days instead of 24 and to the US West Coast 26 days instead of 19.
In Asia, shipments reach Singapore in three days, Indonesia in five and Japan in seven.
Mr Paiboon said the big modern ships need few employees on board, relying on computers for automation.
"Shipping firms are taking advantage of consumers, and there is no law to prevent this happening except in the US, Japan and Europe," he said.
The US Federal Maritime Commission, for instance, is responsible for regulating that country's ocean transport system.
Some 85% of Thai exports are shipped by sea and 5% by air, which is 30-40% more expensive, said Mr Paiboon, a former TNSC chairman.
But Khalid Hashim, the managing director of SET-listed Precious Shipping Plc, said his company does not slow-steam, a practice that benefits only large ships.
He acknowledged that several container lines have deliberately slowed their ships, resulting in a smaller-than-expected loss for most of them.
Commenting on the entire sector, however, Mr Hashim said other segments such as dry-bulk and tankers have been unable to increase shipping rates, and many companies have secretly gone bankrupt.
"A short delay of four to seven days should not be a cause for concern for 90% of all cargo shipped via sea," he said.
"But I have yet to see any container or other ship getting an 80% savings on fuel and only lengthening the voyage by four to seven days. If the dream that this 'shipper' floats in were real, we would all want to be a part of that. This is pure rubbish."
About the author
- Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter