A major global shipping company has blamed a backlog of containers at UK ports for a decision to divert vessels elsewhere, threatening delays to deliveries as the pre-Christmas trade gets underway.
Maersk said it was rerouting container ships away from Felixstowe, the UK’s largest commercial port, to unload elsewhere in Europe before using smaller vessels to finally get deliveries to the UK.
The company explained that the HGV driver shortage meant the time it took for containers to be emptied and picked up had led to containers becoming backed-up.
The company’s global ocean network chief Lars Mikael Jensen told the Financial Times: “We had to stop operations on a ship because there was nowhere to discharge the 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.
“We did it for a little while over the summer and now we’re starting to do it again.”
The British International Freight Association told Sky News the issue was nothing new but said dwell times – the amount of time a container was waiting to be picked up at Felixstowe – had almost doubled to just shy of ten days over the past fortnight.
A spokesperson for the port, which handles more than a third of UK ship-based cargo, said: “The pre-Christmas peak, combined with haulage shortages, congested inland terminals, poor vessel schedule reliability and the pandemic, has resulted in a build-up of containers at the port.
“The vast majority of import containers are cleared for collection within minutes of arriving and there are over 1,000 unused haulier bookings most days.
“However, the situation is improving and there is more spare space for import containers this week than at any time since the beginning of July when supply chain impacts first started to bite.”
The added: “We are working closely with all our shipping lines customers to accommodate their vessels. This can be challenging as a high proportion of ships are off schedule due to the well-publicised global supply chain issues and imports continue to arrive faster than the UK supply chain can handle them due to the well documented haulier shortage.
“As a result, and on occasions, we understand and regret lines have to prioritise the services they have.”
Maersk warned growing delays could mean retailers would be forced to prioritise what they ship to deal with the congestion.
While the UK is not alone in facing supply chain disruption arising from economies getting back in gear following the COVID-19 shock, it is short of around 100,000 HGV drivers to ensure deliveries are made across the economy.
There is a Brexit link too as many drivers returned home after 1 January and a temporary visa scheme – announced by the government to appease angry business leaders – seems to have failed to lure many back.
Competition for shipping contracts has forced up costs dramatically and contributed to the surge in inflation globally.
Retailers have also highlighted order problems in China and east Asia, where pandemic restrictions and poor weather conditions have affected shipping.