Thousands of UK businesses relying on transporting and selling imported goods are facing a potential crisis as Britain’s busiest cargo port is reportedly collapsing under the coronavirus pandemic and a host of other problems, This is Money can reveal.
Ship crates pile up at the wharf in the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, with containers “ normally shifted within 48 hours, taking up to 10 days ” to get out of the port as it is during the busiest time of the year struggles. according to a trade association representing transport companies.
The situation, which the port has blamed on staff shortages and a spike in arriving containers, has gotten so bad that last week Felixstowe prohibited transporters for six days from returning empty crates.
The port of Felixstowe in Suffolk accounts for 48% of UK container trade and is the eighth busiest container port in Europe
It seeks to clear a backlog that, according to the bosses of trade bodies, “has led to significant transportation problems, preventing many containers from being collected or returned.”
The port of Felixstowe told This is Money that this was a temporary move and that it has started accepting empty containers again.
Robert Keen, Director General of the British International Freight Association, which represents approximately 1,500 companies involved in the transportation of cargo, warned that problems in the UK’s busiest container port have “ escalated to levels that could be disastrous for the ‘companies of our members’.
Import companies are concerned
A family business that imports goods from abroad and then sells them to retailers who stock the shelves with the items they buy faces a race against time to get the goods in, load them into its warehouse, and move them onward.
September and October are the busiest time of the year, with the goods arriving and quickly turning over, ready to fill the shelves in the run up to the holidays – but it’s been left in the dark when all of his shipments will arrive after told about delays.
It works together with a logistics company that arranges the sea transport of goods via Felixstowe.
The company fears this delay could cause serious damage, and additional temporary staff – hired to help with the crowds – are just idly waiting to do their jobs.
The bottlenecks are having a knock-on effect on the thousands of businesses making a living through the sale of imported goods, with the problems at Felixstowe leading to delays in the arrival of containers.
Port refused containers were usually moved within 48 hours. A spokesperson said: “Under normal circumstances, import containers stay in the port for about four to four and a half days, at the moment that has increased to five days.”
The additional delays faced by businesses were also due to other factors and not just problems in the port.
Some companies have complained that they have been left in the dark as to when their shipments will arrive, while an email from a logistics company seen by This is Money said, ‘there are no clear signs that the situation is easing.’
Typically, a logistics company acts as an intermediary between a company that imports goods from abroad and the container ships that bring them in.
The reality is that Felixstowe is more important than Dover to Britain’s international trade.
British International Freight Association
Port congestion comes at a critical time for many importers looking to stock up before the Christmas season, while businesses that ordered less during the coronavirus blockade are restocking as the economy begins to recover.
The port of Felixstowe is the UK’s busiest container port and the eighth in Europe, with a whopping 48 percent of UK container trade.
It handles 4 million containers and welcomes 3,000 ships every year.
It said in a statement on its website last Friday that the number of containers imported over the past two weeks was 30 percent higher than average, and apologized for the inconvenience caused.
A BIFA spokesperson told This is Money that “ a significant portion of our 1,500 members use the port, ” and that while bottlenecks in Dover usually get more headlines, “ the reality is that Felixstowe is more important than Dover to Great Britain’s international trade. Britain’.
This is Money contacted the Department for Transport to ask if it was aware of the congestion in the port and if they planned to help.
It believes the issues are a commercial matter at this point, but a spokesperson said, “The ministry is aware of the issue and will continue to liaise with the port to monitor the situation and any impact on wider supply chains.”
The email from the logistics company that saw This is Money said the port had “ had several challenges for a while, ” with BIFA saying these initially stemmed from the introduction of a new internal booking system that was introduced in 2018.
While the problems at Dover (below) are often more noticeable, the Suffolk port of Felixstowe was described by the British Freight Forwarding Agency as ‘more important to Britain’s international trade’.
But the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse. BIFA said the port faced “ serious personnel issues ” and that attempts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, for example by social detachment and closing it for a thorough cleanup for a few hours a day, were causing delays.
The email from the logistics company added, ‘Many drivers are not working because of the pandemic, either due to leave, vacation or quarantine requirements.
“With the added complication of coronavirus-safe work practices, this means that something that would normally take two hours to unload now takes nearly twice as long, causing further problems and delays to the planned workload.”
The British International Freight Association said the problems in the port were so bad that containers that were usually moved within 48 hours were left in the port for a whopping 7-10 days.
Another logistics company, FS Mackenzie Ltd of Basildon, wrote on its website last week: ‘We are in the difficult position to apologize to our customers who have shipments booked with us arriving at the port of Felixstowe.
“The service interruption we experience is completely out of our control and leads to frustration and additional costs for our customers.”
In its statement released last week, the Port of Felixstowe, owned by Hutchison Ports in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands since 1994, said it was looking for more than 100 new drivers, private employee testing and capacity expansion.
It says it has also cut back 300 staff who previously lapsed under the coronavirus job retention system.
It added that it would open the port on Sunday to allow carriers to pick up containers and increase the availability of reservations to more than 4,300 vehicles per day.
The port of Felixstowe said the number of containers it saw had increased by 30% compared to the average level of the past two weeks
The company made headlines last week when it was revealed that it had given a £ 100,000-a-year advisory role to ex-Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, who had previously been widely mocked for having a £ 13.8 million ferry contract to a company. that owned no ships. .
BIFA warned that there was “no simple solution” to end the crisis, saying it would take time to train new employees as the port was already going through its busiest period of the year.
The spokesman said members “keep their fingers crossed that these measures will address operational challenges, but have no confidence that they will.”
This is Money has reached out to Felixstowe Port for comment, but said it had nothing to add beyond the statement on its website last week.
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