Freight News, Sea

Felixstowe in crisis warn freight operators – updated

[ September 17, 2020   //   ]

Container groupage operator Globelink Fallow is warning that operational problems at the port of Felixstowe had reached crisis point.

The port had already been affected by the Covid crisis as the need to deep clean equipment after shift restricted capacity and lengthened turnaround times. Now, however, the port appears to have hit capacity and slots in its vehicle booking system are no longer being issued.

Meanwhile, shipping lines are refusing the restitution of empty containers back to the port. With inland warehouses unable to store empty containers at their facilities, containers might have to be restituted to other ports, such as London, Immingham, Liverpool or Teeside it says.

Globelink Fallow adds that priority de-vanning of containers has been suspended and that all containers will be treated in the same manner.

Director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA), Robert Keen,aid that it would not be possible to restitute empty containers to Felixstowe until 23 September adding that it was “yet another example of appalling service from a port that describes itself as ‘The Port of Britain’.”

He said: “The operational performance at Felixstowe has been very challenging for some time, but over the last 24 hours the issues have escalated to a level that could be disastrous for our members’ businesses, which have already been hard hit by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The latest ‘initiative’ would appear to be an attempt to overcome the huge congestion that has developed at the port, which has led to significant haulage problems for our members whereby many containers can neither be collected, nor returned. 

“Empty containers will have to be restituted to inland container parks, which will lead to an escalation in haulage costs for members using merchant haulage; as well as quay rent and demurrage issues and expenses, which are difficult to pass on to our members’ customers.

“Our members say that the port authority is merely paying lip service to any enquiries they make, which is unacceptable for a port authority, which owns the UK’s busiest container port.

“The debacle in 2018, when the port undertook a disastrous migration to a new in-house terminal operating system appears to be at the root of the current VBS problems, which is exacerbating the congestion problems caused by other issues; including a huge increase in container moves ahead of the Golden Week in China; reduced container moves per hour at the quayside and serious staffing issues.

“BIFA members have suffered from two years of poor service from the port, and it is high time that it considers BIFA members as direct customers of the port, and shows some willingness to discuss compensation for the damage caused and the increased costs that have been incurred by those members.

“At the very least, the port authority should extend free-time for quay rent and demurrage.”

Freight forwarder Woodland said that vessels were diverting from Felixtwoe and discharging instead at London Gateway or Southampton.

Others were ‘cutting and running’ and discharging UK-bound containers on the Continent with, in some cases containers are not being returned until 7-14 days thereafter.

Southampton, London Gateway and Northern ports continue to operate with a normal service, albeit with some partial closures due to daily deep cleaning, resulting in some reduced collections and vehicle booking slots.