Date: 17.09.2020

Significant disruption at UK largest container port

The ongoing impact of Coronavirus on the workforce and terminal operating practices at Felixstowe has reduced productivity which, with unexpected demand spikes, has resulted in high yard density impeding operations and prompted drastic action from port management. 

To clear backlogs and ease port congestion, Felixstowe will not accept any export empty containers at the Port via rail from 1900hrs, yesterday Wednesday 16/9 until 1900hrs next Tuesday 22/9.

Rail providers, who currently account for 35% of the throughput of the port, have been directed to operate with only laden containers on their services arriving at the port and leave empties, which make up 30% of the export flow back to the port, inland or divert to other ports.  

Port of Felixstowe congestion has intensified as management have tried to cope with massive demand increases, in the face of reduced productivity, caused by COVID safe-working practices and the deep cleaning required at each shift changeover, and a scaled down workforce returning from furlough.

High traffic volumes and shortage of port labour is creating high yard density at the port, which is further reducing productivity and has been the reason that vessels are unable to complete empty loading or have diverted to other ports, not loading any empty or export containers.

Apart from the disruption this will have on the already stretched haulage market, rail is a key component in intermodal transport, which will increase costs dramatically to hold empty equipment inland and run empty rail slots to the port.

In addition to the impact on transport services, the slow down of equipment returning for repositioning, will put further pressure on global inventory demands.  

With one major carrier already stopped from returning any empty equipment to the port by any mode we understand warnings have been issued to other carriers that empty receipt may be suspended or reduced by this weekend, by any mode.

The situation is serious, as road haulage is already stretched and given the limited off-dock storage options at Felixstowe, very quickly the capacity to perform import haulage will be reduced if hauliers are unable to return empties to clear trailers.

Metro is working with our intermodal partners and has already started to triangulate empty returns to other ports by rail, to reduce the pressure at Felixstowe and avoid costs inland / container detention charges which carriers are unlikely to continue to charge.

Please call Grant Liddell or Ian Barnes for the latest updates and market position.