Companies, economists and shipping specialists have reported that events have conspired to drive global supply chains towards breaking point, threatening the fragile flow of raw materials, parts and consumer goods.

Iran PressAmerica: The Delta variant of the coronavirus has devastated parts of Asia and prompted many nations to cut off land access for sailors, according to Reuters.

That's left captains unable to rotate weary crews and about 100,000 seafarers stranded at sea beyond their stints in a flashback to 2020 and the height of lockdowns.

"We're no longer on the cusp of a second crew change crisis, we're in one," Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, told Reuters, adding: "This is a perilous moment for global supply chains."

Given ships transport around 90% of the world's trade, the crew crisis is disrupting the supply of everything from oil and iron ore to food and electronics.

German container line Hapag Lloyd (HLAG.DE) described the situation as "extremely challenging".

 

"Vessel capacity is very tight, empty containers are scarce and the operational situation at certain ports and terminals is not really improving," it said, adding: "We expect this to last probably into the fourth quarter – but it is very difficult to predict."

Meanwhile, deadly floods in economic giants China and Germany have further ruptured global supply lines that had yet to recover from the first wave of the pandemic, compromising trillions of dollars of economic activity that rely on them.

The Chinese flooding is curtailing the transport of coal from mining regions such as Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, the state planner says, just as power plants need fuel to meet peak summer demand.

In Germany, road transportation of goods has slowed significantly. In the week of July 11, as the disaster unfolded, the volume of late shipments rose by 15% from the week before, according to data from supply-chain tracking platform FourKites.

Nick Klein, VP for sales and marketing in the Midwest with Taiwan freight and logistics company OEC Group, said companies were scrambling to free goods stacked up in Asia and in US ports due to a confluence of crises.

"It's not going to clear up until March," Klein said.

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Manufacturing industries are reeling.

Automakers, for example, are again being forced to stop production because of disruptions caused by COVID-19 outbreaks. Toyota Motor Corp said this week it had to halt operations at plants in Thailand and Japan because they couldn't get parts.

Stellantis temporarily suspended production at a factory in the U.K. because a large number of workers had to isolate to halt the spread of the virus.

The industry has already been hit hard by a global shortage of semiconductors this year, mainly from Asian suppliers. Earlier this year, the auto industry consensus was that the chip supply crunch would ease in the second half of 2021 - but now some senior executives say it will continue into 2022.

(An oil tanker waits in line in the ocean outside the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex, amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

An executive at a South Korea auto parts maker, which supplies Ford, Chrysler and Rivian, said raw materials costs for steel which was used in all their products had surged partly due to higher freight costs.

"When factoring in rising steel and shipping prices, it is costing about 10% more for us to make our products," the executive told Reuters, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"Although we are trying to keep our costs low, it has been very challenging. It's just not rising raw materials costs, but also container shipping prices have skyrocketed."

Europe's biggest home appliances maker, Electrolux (ELUXb.ST), warned this week of worsening component supply problems, which have hampered production. Domino's Pizza (DPZ.N) said the supply-chain disruptions were affecting the delivery of equipment needed to build stores.

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Men stand on a vehicle on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
Container ships and oil tankers wait in the ocean outside the Port of Long Beach-Port of Los Angeles complex, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo