Maersk has begun diverting vessels away from the UK as the country’s largest container port ranks among the worst-hit terminals globally for congestion.
The Danish shipping line has rerouted large ships away from Felixstowe to instead discharge UK-bound cargo in Europe to be transported to the UK in smaller vessels.
Speaking to The Financial Times Lars Mikael Jensen, head of global ocean network at Maersk, said: “We had to stop operations on a ship because there was nowhere to discharge containers.
“Felixstowe is among the top two or three worst-hit terminals. We are having to deviate some of the bigger ships away from Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for the cargo.”
The port handles 36% of the UK’s containerised freight and due to the lack of truck drivers it is taking longer to get fully loaded containers away from ports and to return empty ones for pick-up.
Ports across the UK have experienced high dwell times of imports and very high yard utilisations because of the truck driver shortage, attributed in part to Brexit, and a limited availability of reefer plugs for the same reason.
Commenting on the reports of congestion at Felixstowe, CEO of the UK Major Ports Group Tim Morris said: “As the UK’s gateways for 95% of trade ports are the jam in the sandwich between surging, volatile shipping and UK supply chains badly impacted by factors such as HGV driver shortages.
“UK ports have remained open and resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit border changes and surging global demand for goods travelling by sea. It has not been easy and there have been times of real stress on the ports system.”
On October 1, Hapag-Lloyd noted in an update that DP World had requested that all customers should pick up imports as soon as possible and that the congestion has severely affected the performances and productivities of terminals.
Speaking on how ports have been exacerbated by issues impacting all UK supply chains, Morris said: “Ports therefore have to manage access to storage space very dynamically in extreme situations.
“This can mean some very limited, short-term restrictions. Ports are committed to working closely with customers and entire supply chains to keep goods moving.”
Due to the high number of empty containers at Felixstowe, Maersk had to refuse any empty returns to the terminal from October 6 and instead diverted these to London Gateway.
As a result, DP World’s London Gateway terminal also had to close its gates for empty returns on October 7.
Felixstowe was able to open back up to empty returns on October 8 while London Gateway opened for empty returns on October 11, prioritising reefer equipment.
The turmoil at the port has come as retailers have begun stocking goods ahead of the Christmas shopping season and though Jensen noted that goods would be widely available at Christmas, he warned that retailers may need to prioritise what they ship.
Congestion at ports has been prevalent around the world since the end of last year as a result of the pandemic triggering high volatile demand for goods, factory closures and restricted operations at ports.
Morris said: “Ports have taken significant action to respond to the challenges and build resilience.
“They have extended gate opening 24/7, increased capacity for trucks at peak hours, sought to maximise rail freight usage within the significant constraints of the network, created additional storage space and recruited more people.