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  • Writer's pictureKevinS

Navigating the Stormy Waters of International Shipping

Updated: May 10

In our globalized world, international shipping serves as the critical artery, transporting the lifeblood of commerce across borders. From raw materials and intermediate goods to finished products, international shipping connects manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. However, this critical process faces a myriad of challenges that often complicate the smooth flow of goods. For professional logistic companies, this risks and complexity is well understood, but for individuals using the service for the first time, or for individuals moving personal items between countries it can be very confusing. Significant challenges regularly make media headlines:

1. Port Congestion

Port congestion has become one of the most pressing issues, particularly evident at major international ports. The influx of cargo ships leads to prolonged wait times, increased shipping costs, and ultimately delays in the delivery of goods. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues due to labour shortages and reduced port capacity.

2. Labor Shortages and Strikes

A skilled workforce is crucial for efficient shipping operations. However, labour shortages, amplified by the pandemic, and strikes have hampered productivity at ports and in the trucking industry.

3. Supply Chain Disruptions

The ripple effect of disruptions like natural disasters, geopolitical tensions, and health emergencies can lead to supply chain imbalances. A single point of failure could affect several interconnected industries.

4. Regulatory Compliance

International shipping involves navigating a complex web of regulations, which often differ significantly between countries. Failing to comply can lead to fines, confiscated shipments, and damaged relationships with trading partners.

5. Environmental Regulations

The international shipping industry is under growing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. Compliance with emissions regulations, such as those set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), requires significant investment in cleaner technologies.

6. Piracy and Security Risks

Despite technological advancements, piracy remains a threat, particularly in specific regions like the Gulf of Guinea. Cybersecurity risks are also increasing as digital systems become more integral to shipping operations.

7. Fluctuating Freight Rates

Freight rates can be highly volatile, influenced by changes in fuel costs, trade tariffs, and geopolitical events. This volatility creates uncertainty for businesses in budgeting and pricing their products.

8. Chain of companies

Moving goods from one location to another requires a chain of companies acting in harmony and each playing their part. This very process can present a significant challenge to the end customer if there are any issues. The end customer can be powerless while their good are effectively held ransom when there are disputes between sub-contractors.

A break in the chain can result in significant delays and costs. This is compounded by sub-contractors having individual contracts and further complications arising from international contract law.

A practical example of this is the case of Mr V. He contracted Shifters, a company in India to move his personal belongings to the UK and paid in full for the service. As part of this process, several other companies became involved in the chain, unknown to Mr V:

• SRC Shipping Services

• POTA Global Shipping (India)

• Unsworth Ltd.

Unfortunately for Mr V, SRC proved less than reliable and failed to provide proper documentation for his goods and furthermore demanded additional payment or risk losing his goods. SRC then disappeared. As a result, his goods have been in a warehouse in the UK, held by Unsworth Ltd. and unable to be released.

SRC is uncontactable and the situation has proven to be difficult to resolve for Unsworth Ltd and POTA global. As a result:

  • Mr V still does not have his belongings. They have been sitting in Unsworth’s warehouse since 14th March.

  • Mr V paid an additional £1,450 which Unsworth Ltd. has refused to return to him.

  • Mr V and his family continue to be without furniture or any of their belongings.

Mr V’s experience has been very different to what is promised on the company websites:

In a recent statement from Thomas Kuehn, Unsworth’s Managing Director:

And from the Pota website:

Each company is focused on their own position and responsibilities, but as SRC is nowhere to be found, this results in a continuing state of limbo and buck passing. Certainly neither a hassle free or customer focused experience. The very opposite!

9. Accidental damage

Insurance is essential as accidents, can and do happen. Shipping containers don't always offer the protection you may expect. Mr V's container was punctured by a fork lift at some point in its journey. As a result, the goods inside have been badly water damaged.

Insurance is a must, but do check the fine print for what is covered and the time window when a claim can be made in the event of any problem.


Navigating the stormy waters of international shipping requires careful consideration of both the macros conditions as well as the fine print. Issues can and do arise between service providers which make life a misery for customers, and that is without the complications of major events such as war, piracy, port congestion and weather. Careful consideration must be given to the selection of a reliable shipping service provider. This requires looking beyond the company website. Look at company reviews and also its financial position. Does it look a safe pair of hands? Will it support you if there is a problem?

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