Date: 19.11.2020

National press highlight Felixstowe port chaos

With disruption at the Port of Felixstowe branded “a mess”, the national press is now also reporting on global port disruption, as retailers express concerns about product shortages in the run-up to Christmas. 

As Metro has been reporting regularly in recent weeks, the impact at Felixstowe along with other serious challenges is also having an effect on other major UK and European ports which are facing similar issues as vessels remain off schedule, with unprecedented high volume along with additional delays created by COVID related processes. 

Every regular shipper, particularly from Asia, will have recently experienced changes to a vessel schedule on which they have cargo, which is unsurprising when schedules show that half of the global fleet are running at least four days behind.

The majority of these occurrences are triggered by delays that the shipping lines are already carrying into Europe. These are then exacerbated by congestion and operational challenges and issues at UK ports and throughout Europe. 

The following is part of a transcript of the BBC News story; Felixstowe Port in ‘chaos’ as Christmas and Brexit loom

Retailers, shipping and haulage companies have complained of “chaos” at Felixstowe Port in Suffolk, affecting goods in the run-up to Christmas.

One ship due to be unloaded at the port last week was redirected to Rotterdam because of “unacceptable” delays.

The owner, Hutchison Ports, blames pre-Brexit stockpiling and the pandemic.

Port users have warned that “if the chaos continues, increased shipping prices will be passed on to consumers”.

“It’s delaying freight going into shops for consumers to buy,” they said. “Shops are struggling anyway at the moment because of the impact from the coronavirus.

Part of the problem is a shipment of 11,000 containers of PPE ordered by the government that is clogging up the port.

Last week, Taiwanese shipping firm Evergreen directed one of its ships to bypass Felixstowe because of “serious port congestion”.

The ship’s cargo was unloaded in Rotterdam instead and ferried back to the UK via London’s Thamesport.

An Evergreen spokesman said the firm had been told by Felixstowe’s owner that a berthing slot – where cargo is unloaded – would not be available for up to 10 days after the ship’s scheduled arrival.

“Such a delay is totally unacceptable,” he said.

In a statement, Hutchison Ports UK said: “The imbalance in UK trade and Brexit stockpiling exacerbate current operational challenges and we are working with our customers and stakeholders to get through the current congestion.

“Performance at the port remains under pressure due to the Covid pandemic, high levels of import traffic, the large number of empty containers and a large amount of unusually long-stay containers held at the port.”

But in an operational note posted on its website, the company said delays at Felixstowe would continue “at least into December and possibly through into the New Year” – potentially causing havoc for firms still waiting on pre-Christmas stock.

In a sign of the company’s woes, Hutchison Ports UK recently reinstalled its former boss Chris Lewis as chief executive. He came out of retirement to take up the role for a second time, having last led the firm in 2010.

For months, hauliers have complained about Felixstowe’s Vehicle Booking System (VBS) which lorry drivers must use to gain ticketed entry to the port. Freight manager Mr Hudson says in recent weeks, the situation has become worse.

“There are more containers waiting on the port while all trucking companies are logging on trying to get a slot. Sometimes the port cancels some of the VBS [slots] when drivers are actually on port waiting,” he said.

“We need to see improvement quickly. It’s ruining a lot of people’s businesses.”

A spokesman for Hutchison Ports UK disputed the claims about the VBS, pointing out that in recent days, empty slots have been available and that improvements to the system are under way.

Logistics UK, the trade association representing supply chain firms, said there had been a huge spike recently in the volume of cargo entering the UK.

Part of that dates back to the summer, when the UK’s first lockdown eased and firms increased stock orders as the economy started to pick up. More recently, businesses have been looking ahead to 1 January and preparing for uncertainty at the end of the Brexit transition period.

Metro has strong working relationships directly with the ports, carriers and haulage partners, that ensures we are informed and can react swiftly to any issues the ports may face. 

Keeping our customers informed through their account management team and via our award winning MVT supply chain visibility tool means we can limit the issues they face, to keep supply chains moving and avoid unnecessary costs.