The UK’s largest container port, the Port of Felixstowe, has apologised to customers for service standards falling below expectations, with reduced productivity and congestion leading to several vessel diversions.
The hub, run by Hutchison Ports, had to temporarily cease acceptance of empty containers following a sharp spike in import container volumes, along with a high proportion of late vessel arrivals, partly caused by typhoons in Asia.
A statement from the operator noted: “The weekly import volume for the last two weeks has been over 30% higher than average levels.
“This is exacerbated by unusually high levels of empty containers at the port and the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis on resource availability. As a result, our service standards are not currently where we would like them to be and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
In response, the port will increase its VBS booking availability to more than 4,300 vehicles per day, open on Sundays for haulage collection and work with customers to “temporarily slow down and reduce the number of empty containers being returned to the port by rail and road, to ensure we do not run out of storage space”.
It will also recruit and train over 100 additional front line equipment drivers, which had not been possible during lockdown.
In preparation for the potential second wave of COVID-19, the operator will secure private testing for its employees to minimise the period people need to self-isolate if they, or a family member, display symptoms.
A customer advisory from Maersk noted that the Port of Felixstowe was experiencing reduced productivity due to staff shortages while necessary new hygiene regimes driven by COVID-19 were resulting in lower productivity at shift changes.
In addition, it noted that driver shortages were occurring in the market, driven by lost labour post-COVID in the form of returning overseas nationals and furloughed staff.