Freight forwarders have demanded that the British government intervenes in the dispute between the owners of the Port of Felixstowe and its users following ongoing disruption, which has caused operational damage and incurred additional costs.
The British International Freight Association (BIFA) has claimed that the port’s migration to an in-house terminal operating system (TOS) in 2018 is the “root” of the current vehicle booking system (VBS) problems in contrast to the port’s stance that unused bookings are to blame.
The UK’s biggest container port, run by Hutchison Ports, has faced significant congestion in recent weeks leading to vessel diversions after a sharp spike in import container volumes, along with a high proportion of late vessel arrivals, partly caused by typhoons in Asia, as well as staff shortages.
Robert Keen, director general of BIFA, stated: “There is a huge difference of opinion between the port’s users and its management, over the causes of the less than satisfactory operational performance that continues to be experienced at Felixstowe.
“Our members say that the port authority is merely paying lip service to any enquiries they make, which is unacceptable for a port authority, which owns the UK’s busiest container port, and has been happy to market it as the ‘Port of Britain’.”
He continued: “The debacle in 2018, when the port undertook a disastrous migration to a new in-house TOS appears to be at the root of the current VBS problems, which is exacerbating the congestion problems caused by other issues; including a huge increase in container moves ahead of the Golden Week in China; reduced container moves per hour at the quayside and serious staffing issues.”
According to Keen, BIFA members have suffered from two years of poor service from the port, and are therefore calling for independent intervention by government.
On October 7, a statement from the port claimed that its VBS had been designed to offer “maximum flexibility” to the local haulage community, but this flexibility was in turn being abused, exacerbating problems at the port.
It noted: “We wish to retain as much flexibility as possible but its design has encouraged some hauliers to secure as many bookings as they can, irrespective of their actual need.
“They then return unwanted bookings at the last minute by which time they are of limited benefit to other firms. Last week 11,704 bookings were returned and 6,679 bookings were unused.”
The operator is increasing the number of bookings available on both terminals and implementing changes to VBS bookings from October 12, in an effort to ensure a more equitable and efficienct distribution of bookings.
As part of the changes, all bookings between 11:00 and 19:00 without a container associated with it four hours before the time of the booking will be lost and automatically reclaimed by the system; all other hours remain unchanged.
Reclaimed bookings will be re-released for general use but it will be mandatory to attach container details at the time of booking while no-show charges will continue to apply to any bookings made but not use.
Additional information will also be available on the port’s website showing the number of bookings available, the number taken and the number that went unused at different times of the day.