Congestion at the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, is expected to continue into December and possibly into the new year, as unexpectedly high import volumes, slow-moving containers of PPE, and problems managing the high activity levels persist.
In an operational update on 15 November, Port of Felixstowe said that “like other major container ports worldwide”, the port was “still experiencing a spike in container volumes and dealing with the consequences of the ongoing Covid pandemic. In addition, we have had a high number of slow-moving containers of PPE occupying storage space.”
The Hutchison-owned port added: “The current high volumes will last at least into December and possibly through into the New Year, but we are working hard to minimise the impact on daily operations and to maintain vital supply chains.”
The port is reportedly dealing with 11,000 containers of personal protective equipment for health workers that have not yet been collected, with the port noting: “We have been working with the Government’s principle forwarder to remove PPE containers as quickly as possible. Volumes have reduced significantly since the peak and should all be cleared within four weeks.”
The continuing congestion issues come as the port was reported to be the worst performer among key competitors in Europe and Asia in the first three quarters of 2020, with turnaround times up to eight hours longer than the 24 hours seen typically elsewhere. Lifts were said to be down to only 20 an hour, compared with 27 achieved in the north Continent range such as Antwerp and Bremerhaven, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Responding to the report, Port of Felixstowe said: “Global supply chains remain under pressure but we have a plan to address the specific issues at the Port of Felixstowe. We are increasing the level of resource available, developing additional storage capacity and working with customers and partners to remove long stay containers as quickly as possible to reduce congestion.”
Robert Keen, director-general of the British International Freight Association, said the report was consistent with anecdotal evidence from the association’s freight forwarder members, which had repeatedly flagged issues about inefficient operations at Felixstowe. “We remain surprised that the government has shown little interest in the issue, given the port’s role within the UK’s international supply chains and its promotion as the ‘port of Britain’,” Keen noted.
Keen told Lloyd’s Loading List that BIFA’s members have faced multiple operational difficulties for months at the port of Felixstowe, and increasingly to a certain extent at other UK ports such as London Gateway and Southampton, noting that the association’s members “are incurring significant additional costs as a result of the ongoing disruption to operations, caused by circumstances over which they have no control”.
Keen added: “We understand that the port authority is responding to the challenges and we hope that those responses are successful, although we note that the port authority has said that the current high volumes will last at least into December and possibly through into the New Year, so we can only hope that the work they are doing to minimise the impact on daily operations and to maintain vital supply chains is effective.
The latest update on 15 November from Port of Felixstowe on the current situation highlighted that the terminal operator was taking action to increase its level of staff resources available, noting that “104 additional equipment drivers plus a number of engineers in support roles are being recruited and trained. We are continuing recruitment through the latest lockdown.”