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ICYMI: Global shipping costs, travel disruptions (and more visa updates)

Right now, all eyes are on the Red Sea and disruptions to global shipping. The Telegraph reports that Shell’s indefinite suspension of Red Sea shipments might lead to a fresh spike in fuel prices. Oil and gas firms are concerned that vessels are are at risk, and oil spills might be a threat if violence continues to escalate. Oil tanker companies including QatarEnergy, Torm, and BP have all halted activity through the Red Sea since the Houthi rebels began attacks on vessels in mid-December. 

In fact, Red Sea attacks have caused shipping rates to jump more than 50% in some key lanes. Container lines are choosing to go around the Cape of Good Hope instead, leading to longer transit times (adding about 10-14 days to each voyage) and higher rates.  As of Jan. 3, rates from Asia to Northern Europe rose 151% week-over-week, and rates from Asia to the U.S. West Coast grew 63%. Carriers have also announced surcharges of $500 to $2,700 per container. Some carriers have introduced an Emergency Risk Surcharge, and there are more surcharges for all Asia to North America shipments starting in mid-January. Additionally, the heightened war risk has contributed to a rise in oil prices, impacting global shipping and logistics. Some companies are already adding 35%-55% fuel surcharge. 

Besides expecting a rise in the cost for household goods shipments, some are also expecting airfares to see increases in 2024. Global airfares are expected to rise between 3%-7% in 2024, as airlines grapple with high fuel costs, sustainability changes, and fleet upgrades, according to the FCM Consulting's "Global Trend Report" for the third quarter of 2023. However, there are others that see things differently. The travel arrangements company BCD Travel expects global fares to drop next year, but just slightly — less than 1% compared to 2023. This prediction includes a more pronounced drop in airfares to and from Asia (3% for business class, nearly 4% for economy), according to BCD Travel's "Travel Market Report 2024 Outlook."

Additional locational updates and country specifics:

Argentina: Per Crisis24, activists opposing newly-elected President Javier Milei's policies are planning strikes and protests across Argentina on Jan. 24. Tight security and travel disruptions are likely.

Brazil: Unexpectedly heavy rains in southern Brazil have caused port congestion and significant delays.

China: Importers typically increase booking volume in anticipation of factory closures during the Chinese New Year on February 10, 2024. Additionally, space remains tight to the US, and shippers are facing weight limitations and rolling issues due to restrictions in effect at the Panama Canal (See more about this in the Panama section). Blank sailings are projected to remain high through the first few weeks of 2024.

France: The Summer Olympics are in Paris this upcoming year. It is unlikely that relocation services will be affected except in areas close to an Olympic venue. Road closures could be an issue near the city center, however.

Germany: Air and ocean freight rates have massively decreased, and haulage has improved across Europe. Also, German train drivers are set to stage a record six-day strike from Wednesday after their union rejected state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn's latest wage offer.

Guatemala: Ports and warehouses in Guatemala have resumed normal operations following recent strikes. However, there are still some blockades present in certain areas.

Ireland: Airlines cancelled 102 flights in and out of Dublin airport due to a storm that was forecast for Jan. 23, according to airport authorities.

Italy: Public transport workers are planning to strike nationwide on Jan. 24. Expect delays for transportation and travel. 

Japan: A magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit Japan near Noto Peninsula on Monday, Jan. 1, causing serious damage to the area. Many households are still without water or electricity and thousands of people are in evacuation centers.

Panama: Recent rainfall is allowing a slight increase in the number of ships allowed to cross the Panama Canal each day (Currently 22-24 vessels). Carriers have recently introduced Panama Canal Low Water Surcharges. The average wait times for ships without a reservation has risen dramatically also. Some shippers have started to seek alternative routes to the Panama Canal. The ongoing drought and restrictions are likely to persist through the first half of 2024.

South Africa: There are significant operational challenges and delays at the Port of Durban. A congestion surcharge was implemented on December 3rd as a result of these challenges. Delays are expected to continue until February 2024. 

UK: Ships are departing less frequently to boost demand per vessel and maximize revenue for shipping lines. This is causing delays on shipments leaving the UK, with sailings being postponed to later dates. Freight rates had been stable but are expected to rise again due to the increased price of oil.  Additionally, the UK government is set to modify its visitor visa regulations from Jan. 31 onward, allowing individuals to engage in remote work while visiting the country. There was also an expected fee increase for immigration health surcharge (66% increase) that has been delayed. The earliest that it would go into effect will be Jan. 31. Britain's rail network was also disrupted and many flights were canceled due to Storm Isha, which halted travel and caused power outages overnight on Jan 23.

USA: Rail networks are currently experiencing congestion in Chicago, Columbus, and Los Angeles. Chassis shortages are also continuing to add to delays for pickups and deliveries. Additionally, terminals remain busy at the Port of Oakland and there is a severe rail car shortage in Oakland and Seattle. Also, over 1,000 protesters gathered at the Port of Oakland, disrupting port operations twice on January 13th. The port faces significant impacts due to these disruptions. 

As of January 9th, severe weather conditions have slowed a large part of the United States. Heavy rains are hitting part of the East Coast and snowy/blizzard conditions are sweeping the Pacific Northwest. As winter cold spanks much of the country, there have been widespread flight cancellations. Frigid temperatures and blistering winds continue to disrupt air travel for a third straight day as airlines scratch thousands of flights amid a brutal bout of winter weather. 

In the immigration world, USCIS’s proposed Fee Schedule has cleared White House review and April is the expected release date. The fees increased with an average of a 40% increase, although some are significantly higher. The H-1B Pre-Registration fee was proposed to increase from $10 to $215. The USCIS fees have not been adjusted since 2016.



Attacks on vessels by Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen have disrupted international commerce on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia. The attacks, targeting a route that accounts for about 15% of the world's shipping traffic, have pushed several shipping companies to reroute their vessels. The U.S. and Britain launched dozens of air strikes against Houthi military targets overnight on Jan. 11 and 12 in retaliation for the attacks, widening regional conflict stemming from Israel's war in Gaza.


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