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Data is key to smoother supply chain

[ December 2, 2021   //   ]

Shippers need better information on goods in transit by sea, said delegates to a House of Commons International Trade Committee session on 1 December. Chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, Andrew Goodacre told the gathering, which investigated the recent rises in the cost of international shipping, that the Ever Given incident in which a stranded container vessel blocked the Suez Canal for several days earlier in 2021 that a better understanding was needed of what was being carried in containers on the high seas.

He said: “It took a long time to find out what was in the Ever Given’s boxes. We need a better understanding of what goods are on their way to us…faster data exchange would help.”

He added that information of the kind included in manifests for customs purposes was not detailed or accurate enough, usually being general descriptions of cargo. “It’s a useful summary but not detailed enough,” he added.

UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) chief executive, Tim Morris, agreed, saying: There is a lot of data, but the big challenge is who can see what, in collating it.”

Earlier, he told the session that as far as port congestion was concerned, “we are now in a better place than we were 12, even three months ago” with only a handful of ships anchored awaiting berths outside ports in the UK and Europe. This was in marked contrast to the US West Coast, where queues of up to 40 ships were still being reported.

However, shipping and buying patterns had been disrupted by the congestion, with containerloads of garden furniture that had arrived too late for summer mingling with others containing Christmas goods that retailers had ordered in September to try and beat the congestion. Ports had been operating at up to 96% of their design capacity at times and even now were running at around 80-85%, he said.

“Things can cahgne very quickly,” he added. “We don’t need too much to back into the ‘orange’ zone.”

However, the port industry had learned to adapt quickly to the new situation, introducing more flexible working and introducing 24-hour operation. Recent events, he added, could be seen as “a wake-up call about the importance of freight and supply chains…I hope it gives freight and less ‘fashionable’ industries like warehousing more prominence in strategic decision making.”

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