Date: 29.09.2021

Liner haulage is effectively broken

Multiple issues are negatively impacting container haulage operations from ports across the UK, with inevitable financial and service impacts, which are likely to impact every importer of full containers. In the worst cases, if no action is taken, importers may face very significant additional charges, with no guarantee of delivery.

Full load importers are facing unprecedented challenges, and while these are great, we believe they can be overcome and mitigated to some extent by taking the proactive actions we describe below.

The loss of HGV drivers to roles outside the freight sector has removed swathes of capacity from the container haulage sector, which is already struggling to deal with inefficient port operations and the lowest vessel schedule reliability in history.

Carrier (liner) haulage is usually a cost-effective option, as it does not not attract a load-on load-off (LoLo) charge. However, the current market situation, haulier cancellations, delays with deliveries and collections and the challenge of matching resource with unpredictable vessel schedules, means that 30% to 40% of haulage moves are failing and shipping lines have very few – if any – bookings until the middle of October or later in November.

Despite the lines extending their haulage booking time from one week to over a month, they are not waiving port storage and demurrage charges, which will be charged in full at each carrier’s tariff and means shippers will be liable to these charges at £75-£95 per day for a 40’ container, which can escalate to £150-£175 a day.

For the 30-40% of failed delivery bookings, some lines are providing additional free time, of between four and seven days, but OOCL and Cosco will offer no additional free time, while Maersk will offer free time up to the point of re-booking.

Merchant haulage may attract additional costs of £150-£300 per container, to ensure we can attract haulage at short notice and absorb the LoLo costs, but it does offer the opportunity to avoid storage and demurrage charges and it is a more flexible alternative, which is particularly critical given the increasing incidences of carrier and merchant transport bookings being cancelled, often without notice, for more lucrative jobs. 

We are leveraging every haulier relationship and partnership, to help our shippers and would recommend flexibility on delivery windows, with bookings for afternoon collections and deliveries more likely to succeed. 

Regular delivery forecasts mean that we can book delivery slots in advance of vessel arrivals, which increases the possibility of achieving container deliveries in line with your expectations.. However if vessels arrive off schedule, late or bypass the UK altogether, then this will create further impact and issues regardless of slots – containers have to be landed to be delivered.

With post-COVID demand and associated supply chain disruption continuing, we anticipate this issue will continue for the rest of the year and are consequently implementing alternative solutions to traditional container haulage:

 – Unloading containers at ports/ railheads for delivery in standard commercial vehicle

 – Dedicated delivery/collection slots with contract vehicles and regular drivers

 – Swap and containers 

Switching your transport requirements away from the carrier option to alternatives, with immediate effect, is the only way to mitigate rent and demurrage charges

We receive no benefit or reduction from carrier support on additional port charges that will be applied as a result of the failure of their arranged transport. Swift action and agreement on costs is required.

Please contact your account manager, operations handler or any of the Metro team to discus your situation, the solutions we have outlined and the cost implications, so we can agree immediate actions and timelines going forward.

Thanks for reading this advisory – it is not what we want to be reporting, but it is the best guidance we can offer in the circumstances. 

We will continue to update you regularly, as the situation changes, and hopefully improves.