UK container imports offloaded at Antwerp, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge could be stranded for weeks before they can be relayed back, potentially missing out on the Christmas market.
Ships diverted from the heavily congested hub ports of Felixstowe, Southampton and London Gateway have mostly discharged their UK imports at the Benelux ports, but now carriers are struggling with their relay options.
Moreover, Antwerp and Rotterdam are reported to be “very full” across all of their box terminals, and The Loadstar understands carriers are now considering other options such as Le Havre and Bremerhaven that could see the delays extended well into next year.
“We obviously don’t have much space on the ships at the moment to tranship the boxes back to the UK, and anyway we can’t afford to sit around at Felixstowe for a week or more for a berth,” a carrier source told The Loadstar.
The problem is not just the limited capacity at the main UK ports, there is also a dearth of feeder tonnage to relay the containers. One major feeder operator suggested to The Loadstar today that UK containers could be stuck on the north continent for some time.
“There is not a single celled vessel open in the whole of North Europe at the moment,” he said, “and there are thousands of boxes discharging on the wrong side of the Channel!”
He said his company had been asked to feed around 10,000 teu from vessels that are going to bypass Felixstowe in the next three weeks and discharge UK cargo in Rotterdam and Zeebrugge. But there were just no ships open at any price.
Meanwhile, carriers are extending their relay options to other UK ports such as Portbury (Bristol) and Liverpool, where they already run services and importers are finding containers they were expecting at ports in the south, many destined for DCs in London and the south-east, are being discharged elsewhere with little or no notice.
One forwarder told The Loadstar he received a notice of arrival from MSC that containers he was expecting to be discharged at London Gateway from La Spezia on the MSC Michaela were being discharged at Liverpool.
He said: “Firstly, we only got the notice on Monday after the boxes came off at Liverpool over the weekend; secondly MSC said that it could no longer cover the haulage; and thirdly, just to rub salt in the wound, it quoted its B/L clause 19 ‘respectfully reminding’ us that we must collect the containers and return the empties to the designated depot, all within the free time allowed.
“It’s almost impossible for us to get haulage at this late stage from the north-west, and we have one of our biggest customers demanding the products,” he said.
Elsewhere, containers from Asia stemmed to be discharged at Felixstowe from the 14,036 teu MSC Rosa M on 7 November, finally arrived last night at Portbury from Antwerp onboard the 3,424 teu MSC Monica.
UK importers with relayed boxes arriving at Portbury now face the significant challenges of remote customs clearance and haulage procurement, as well as substantial additional costs.
However, as one embattled forwarder with containers on the ship commented today, “at least our boxes are in the UK”.