Drewry Maritime Research’s new quarterly report Carrier Performance Insight revealed that industry-wide vessel schedule reliability improved to 72.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2012, but carriers’ service standards for some commercial processes remain as low 40 per cent. Drewry now monitors container carrier service quality monthly or quarterly against seven Key Performance Indicators or metrics, namely:

• Vessel schedule reliability;
• Elapsed time between shipping instruction and bill of lading issue;
• On-time shipment of cargo;
• Port-to-port transit time against schedule;
• Cargo availability at destination port;
• Average U.S. inland transit times;
• Port dwell times.

The latest result represents a 2.9 percentage point improvement on the previous record 69.4 per cent on-time average recorded in the last quarter of 2011 and means that there have been reliability gains in four consecutive quarters. The most reliable carriers in the period were Maersk Line and its sister company Safmarine, followed by Hanjin Shipping.

For the first time, Drewry has incorporated new Key Performance Indicators, using data from e-commerce platform CargoSmart that measure commercial and operational performance at the box-level.

The low success rate of the KPI for ‘elapsed time between shipping instruction and bill of lading issue’, showing that roughly only 40 per cent of shippers obtain bills of lading after three days of submitting the original shipping instruction, suggests that there is still a lot of work required to improve certain commercial processes. The variance between carriers’ success rates for this KPI was large, with a range of 0 per cent to 93 per cent across the five months between October 2011 and February 2012.

The KPI for ‘on-time shipment of cargo’ measures whether a box leaves the first port of load as scheduled. This first step is crucial and any delay at this point will inevitably lead to further hold-ups down the chain. CargoSmart’s data showed a consistent success rate of 66 to 70 per cent in the same five months. That benchmark score indicates that delays are fairly common even before the box has been loaded on board.

‘Port-to-port transit time against schedule’ tracks whether the sea-transit length was as originally promised. It is not a direct measure of reliability as it is still possible to uphold the confirmed transit time, but be late arriving because of delays at the loading port. Success rates were slightly better than the previous KPI, but still indicate that roughly one box in four spends longer at sea than planned.

‘Cargo availability at destination port’ is the closest in character to Drewry’s own reliability measure as it looks at the difference between the promised and actual arrival date of the container at the port of discharge. As this KPI is influenced by the success of the first two benchmarks, it is natural that it has a lower success rate. The preliminary average for the first quarter of 2012 was 57 per cent.

Port dwell times and U.S. inland transits are not a measure of carrier performance as they have very little influence over them. The rationale for their inclusion is simply to provide shippers with extra lead-time transparency. “Any improvement in reliability should be welcomed, but an average score of around 70 per cent is still far too low for a key service industry to be happy with,” said Simon Heaney, Research Manager at Drewry. “Carriers that want to secure new business – essential if they want to fill their big new ships – will have to aim higher than the current benchmark and not rest on their laurels. “Reliability remains an area that carriers can distinguish themselves from the competition. Shippers can play their part in driving future service quality by putting greater emphasis on reliability and other service criteria in their carrier selections,” added Heaney.