Container Shipping – A Cautionary Tale

The shipping industry – set up by Pirates, taken over by the Mafia and not changed much since! My advice to anyone considering shipping their vehicle is simple – find another way!!

There are only four main shipping companies in the world – Maersk, MSC, CMA/CGM and COSCO. Everyone else involved are basically agents who buy space on their ships. So with very little competition the big boys do whatever they like, whenever they like, as long as it is best for them!

Structural problems in the industry have been exaccerbated by Brexit, COVID and a ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal about a year ago. Containers and ships in the wrong place, staff shortages, additional bureaucracy all making for a haphazard situation seemingly out of control!

It´s been two weeks since our last post. The reason for the lack of correspondence is that not an awful lot has happened!

We have stayed on the farm where we left you last time. Henry, on the other hand, is continuing his World tour without us. Our last update was complaining that he had been delayed in Las Palmas and was not due to arrive in Cape Town until 18th April. We should have been so lucky!

Let´s just have a reminder of what has happened so far :

21st January – Henry, cleaned and spruced up for his journey, is delivered to our Abidjan shipping agent; stated to arrive in Cape Town on 4th March

3rd February – after much negotiation with the shipping line, the Abijdan shipping agent finally secures an empty container to put Henry in. In the meantime he has missed the ship he was due to go onto and must now wait until another arrives

16th February – Henry and his container are collected by the shipping line and loaded onto his new boat, the Hammonia Baltica

26th February – after sitting in port for 10 days the Hammonia Balitca finally leaves Abijdan heading for Antwerp where Henry will change ships before heading back south. We finally have a confirmed arrival date in Cape Town of 2nd April on the MSC Stella.

Flights, AirBnBs and a hire car are booked for a 3 week trip from 14th March – 2nd April and arrangements made to then arrive at the Cape Town shipping agent´s farm to await Henry´s arrival out of port

11th March – we have used various tracking web-sites to e-watch Henry´s ship slowly make its way north to Antwerp and it has finally arrived. Henry and his container are discharged the next day and wait at Port for the MSC Stella to arrive and bring him all the way back to South Africa

12th March – the MSC Stella is rerouted, it is no longer going to South Africa but is now going to North America. Henry sits and waits at Antwerp for further advice! We are due to fly to Cape Town tomorrow and decide not to change our plans but carry on with our South Africa travels. Our Cape Town shipping agent is more than happy to let us wait on his farm for however long it takes until Henry arrives

14th March – shipping schedules are updated to show Henry now joining the MSC Chloe, due into Cape Town on 8th April.

1st April – Henry has sat at Antwerp port for 3 weeks whilst the MSC Chloe has meandered from Morocco to London to Hamburg to Rotterdam and finally made it to Antwerp. He is loaded and the ship departs, now due to arrive in Cape Town on 10th April. There seems little left to go wrong and we have a small celebration as once a ship is on the sea it tends to travel quickly and seemlessly. We decide to stay in Cape Town with our friends from the West Africa trip for a few days before decamping to the farm so we have less time to sit waiting. We arrive at the farm on 5th April expecting to be waiting for 5 days.

5th April – the MSC Chloe stops at the port of Las Palmas on its way to Cape Town. It sits and waits, and waits, and waits

10th April – after 6 days the MSC Chloe finally departs Las Palmas. The shipping timetables are updated and we are gutted to see she is now delayed until 18th April. We are feeling somewhat fatalistic about all this by now but are fairly optimistic as there is finally nothing but a big expanse of ocean between Henry and Cape Town – and as I said above, once a ship is sailing it appears to stay more-or-less on target for its next port

11th April – the MSC Chloe changes her mind! She is sailing off the coast of Senegal when she broadcasts a change of plan to bypass Cape Town altogether and instead go round to the east coast and dock at Port Elizabeth and then Durban. Henry will be unloaded at Durban and left to wait until another ship passes by on it way to Cape Town. ETA in Cape Town….6th May

12th April – news breaks of devastating storms and floods in the Kwa-Natal region of South Africa. Over 400 people have lost their lives, homes and livelihoods are destroyed. Roads into Durban port have been swept away along with thousands of containers. Those containers that are left are looted. Durban port is closed down

The MSC Chloe presses on towards Durban regardless, nothing will convince MSC to allow her to stop at Cape Town as originally planned, apparently there are too many containers destined for the east coast to worry about the west coast….

13th April – the MSC Chloe passes the coast of Senegal and therefore veers away from land. She is unable to broadcast her position until she is due to reach the coast of Namibia. We sit and wait, anxious for news of any futher delays or – against all hope – a change of plan that takes her to Cape Town instead of Durban

19th April – after 6 tense days of refreshing the shipping apps hourly, the MSC Chloe finally reappears off the coast of Namibia! She is still on target.

The tracking app still says she is docking at Cape Town but the shipping timetables say not. We know to believe the timetables – the tracking app doesn´t care enough to update itself until it absolutely has to! But there is a glimmer of hope, just a tiny, tiny glimmer….if she heads towards land she may just decide to dock after all….

She got so close….even our shipping agent paused for a moment to consider the possibility that we might have some good news.

20th April – the tracking app and timetables are updated. The MSC Chloe sails past Cape Town on her way to Port Elizabeth 😦

22nd April – the MSC Chloe moors at Port Elizabeth. She was a day late getting in and is now due into Durban on 26th April. The good news, for what it´s worth, is that Henry is now due to stay on her for a week´s holiday in Durban before the MSC Chloe herself brings him back to Cape Town. No unloading and waiting for another ship – that has to be a good thing, right?

Far be it for me to suggest that I´m a control freak, but I am currently tracking the MSC Chloe´s current position on two different marine tracking apps. I have the Hapag-Lloyd container-tracking app which tells me when Henry´s container itself is due into Cape Town. I have the MSC app which tells me when the MSC Chloe is due in and out of Port Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town and I have the Transnet (who own the actual ports) web-site which tells me when they are expecting which ships in and out of port.

Four different view points, four different perspectives of the same situation.

It may or may not surprise you to hear that everyone of these apps is telling us something different! But the general consensus of opinion is that Henry will arrive in Cape Town on the MSC Chloe somewhere around 4th – 6th May. We then expect it to take 4-5 days to get him out of port and onto the farm. Do we dare hope that by two weeks on Tuesday we will be reunited?

Our Cape Town shipping agent has been warning us to expect delays and setting our expectations since we first left Henry with our Abijdan agent 3 months ago. He predicted the missing of connections and even the possibity of bypassing of Cape Town – although even he is amazed at just how long it has taken. But now he is planning for Henry´s arrival at the farm sometime between 6th – 10th May. He has no more warnings or potential disasters left to advise of, it seems he is finally confident that we are nearing the end of the road.

It seems to me that he has been 2 -3 weeks away for the last 2 months! Could it be that this time he really might be with us by then?

I miss our home, I miss our nomadic lifestyles. I crave the chance to start travelling again and see more of this beautiful country. I am beginning to forget what living in Henry is like but am clinging on to the hope that he will be back with us soon – and more to the point will still be in one piece when he gets here!

I hope he´s not been missing us too much….

6 responses to “Container Shipping – A Cautionary Tale”

    • No, this was a one-off as we couldn’t go any further overland from Côte D’Ivoire.

      We had planned to ship from the east coast of Africa to India in about 3 years’ time but we’re now plotting an overland route through the Middle East instead – if we never ship again it will be too soon!!!


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