Covid Complicates Deliveries
This container of bikes from October 2020 arrived in Madagascar in February slightly behind schedule. The donated bikes, in part from a collection at McLean School, were shipped last fall in hopes of arriving before the Christmas holiday. They arrived for Valentine's Day instead. The demand for bikes has only grown over the two month delay.
This shipment of bikes is a resupply to help support the co-op situated in northern Madagascar which has been receiving bikes from us since 2015. The bikes are meant to boost local economies and improve access to services, including healthcare, for the community. We planned for the shipment to arrive at the end of 2020 but cargo congestion held the shipment up at several points along its journey.
Planning our shipments requires a lot of juggling on the part of our Executive Director Taylor Jones. During 2020 this process was compounded by several challenges starting in our own warehouse. When everything shut down last March and April, the bikes started piling up. First at the recycling centers, then when we starting picking up bikes again, at our warehouse.
We had been scheduled to load a container for Barbados the week after the coronavirus quarantine shuttered the warehouse. It wouldn't be until June until we figured out a way to safely load a container, ports were reopened, and our partners were able to receive shipments again. Throughout 2020, the waves of Covid infections affected communities, cities, and countries around the world at differing times and rates which greatly impacted a small organization trying to deliver donated bikes when they were needed most.
Rolling closures, delays, and quarantines affected our ability to collect bikes. Limited volunteers reduced how much work we could accomplish between shipments (as in preparing the bikes and spare parts for the containers). Behind the scenes, Taylor was also dealing with changing shipping schedules, port closures, and crew availability on the other end who would ultimately be responsible for seeing the bikes through to new owners.
These challenges continue to plague our shipments already in 2021. While we are all going through a global pandemic together, we are not all on the same coronavirus 'timeline' or experiencing the exact same pandemic. When Covid-19 spread through China, exports were literally shut down early in 2020. As the virus spread so did the quarantines. By March the Port of Baltimore closed from lack of volume.
Fast forward to today. There are still delays in all stages of our supply chain. From raw metal mining and production, to final production lines and sales floors, supply and demand have not yet equalized. This continues to affect the shipping process over sea and land, not just for new products but for anything being transported. There is now a shortage of cargo ships and shipping containers. Shipments are taking longer to reach ports, causing congestion and delays. Ground transportation (moving the containers from port to their final destinations) continues to back up and take longer, in part because estimated arrival times are all pushed due to delays.
For our container heading to Madagascar last fall, port closures and congestion both played a role in the near two month arrival delay. Most of our shipments are transshipped, which means our container leaves Baltimore on a mega tanker to cross the Atlantic. It then enters a larger port where the container is offloaded and loaded on to a smaller ship to finish its journey. When the port in South Africa closed our ship diverted to Mauritius and the container was held for over a month. Those ports are seeing more congestion right now as shipments are delayed or rerouted due to closures, exposures or simply increased shipments.
Moving forward, we expect to see similar challenges throughout 2021. We are already experiencing scheduling delays and container shortages. Ports are congested and shipments take longer to arrive which could increase cost. What can you do to help? Just keep sending bikes, we'll figure the rest out and keep them rolling. Oh, and wear a mask, wash your hands, get vaccinated, and stay healthy!