Navigating The Red Sea Crisis: What You Should Be Doing

Navigating the Red Sea Crisis

Dr Subhash MakhijaInstances of ship assaults in the Red Sea have significantly impeded global maritime transportation, resulting in a 40% decline in trade flow through the Suez Canal. Dr Subhash Makhija, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of GEP, in New Jersey, USA, tells SmartProcurement that enterprises on a global scale are compelled to adjust their tactics, encompassing the diversification of shipping paths and the renegotiation of supplier agreements to distribute risk.

The escalation in assaults by Houthi insurgents originating from Yemen targeting commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea is instigating profound disruptions in global shipping and logistics networks. Augmenting inventories of critical items and maintaining awareness of evolving threats via instantaneous intelligence are imperative measures.

With trade volumes through the Suez Canal plummeting by over 40% and container ship transits down by 67% since the attacks began in November 2023, companies worldwide are facing delivery delays, cost spikes and supply shortages, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Procurement and supply chain leaders need to urgently adapt their strategies to minimise the fallout.
In this article, we outline key steps organisations should take to keep supply chains resilient amid the growing instability on the Red Sea route.

1. Diversify Shipping Routes and Carriers

With uncertainty around the reliability of the Suez Canal route, it is prudent for shippers to diversify their transportation options.
Consider shifting some volume to alternative routes such as around the Cape of Good Hope or using rail and overland freight from Asia to Europe. The goal is to use multiple channels so that your supply chain is not dependent on any single corridor.
Diversifying carriers is also smart since the turmoil in the region may impact schedule reliability, service levels and capacity of incumbent ocean liners. Vet new logistics partners thoroughly and negotiate flexible contracts to optimise shipping costs and options.
Shipping spot rates from Shanghai to Europe more than tripled (256%) and increased by 162% to the west coast of the United States, according to UNCTAD.

2. Renegotiate Supplier Contracts to Share Risk

The turbulence in the Red Sea will almost certainly increase procurement costs for many items. To keep budgets in check, buyers need to collaborate closely with suppliers and re-engineer contract terms. This includes agreeing on flexible pricing mechanisms to account for volatile freight rates and surging insurance premiums.
Building in buffers and collars around price swings based on market benchmarks can limit surprises. Supplier agreements also need to outline how risks and liabilities will be shared in case of catastrophic delays. The links in your supply ecosystem must share the burden.

3. Boost Inventory Buffers on Critical Items

Procurement teams should analyse spend data to pinpoint high-risk categories and SKUs that would severely disrupt operations if delayed. Earmark these products and create a few months of safety stock versus traditional levels. While higher inventory inflates warehousing costs, it also provides a buffer if there are prolonged logistics holdups.
The supply buffers should be distributed across a network of distribution centres rather than centralised in one warehouse. This way, regional plants have the parts needed if a shipment goes off course.

4. Stay Laser-Focused on Emerging Risks

With conditions changing rapidly around Red Sea stability, procurement groups must vigilantly monitor news that could impact supply chains. This includes tracking port congestion, container availability, ship schedules, and more. Average container spot freight rates saw the highest weekly increase, surging by $500 during the last week of December, according to UNCTAD data.
It’s advisable to do scenario planning and estimate potential impacts at different risk levels. Analytics tools can forecast delays and inventory requirements as situations shift. The goal is building resilience through visibility and not getting caught off guard if trade lanes tighten abruptly.

5. Leverage AI-Powered Solutions

Technology is imperative for navigating unpredictable disruptions like we are seeing currently along the Red Sea route. Leverage solutions for end-to-end visibility across your supply network. Use collaborative messaging platforms and control towers to see delays in real-time and respond decisively.
Enable your supply chain to become dynamic and intelligent using AI, ML and advanced analytics. It will allow you to continuously adapt to abrupt changes in demand, supply, transportation costs and other factors. Technology creates the resilience needed to minimise turbulence.

While the Red Sea crisis has sent shockwaves through global supply chains, it also presents an opportunity to reinvent your strategies and partnerships and gain a competitive advantage. Companies that take proactive steps today to build flexibility and transparency across their procurement and fulfilment networks will be better able to manage uncertainty and mitigate interruptions.

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