The current bout of congestion at UK ports started in 2017 when UASC were sending their 20,000 TEU vessels into Felixstowe but they kept missing their weekly slots. This meant that Felixstowe port, having allocated berth space, labour and equipment which then stood idle, had to then provide these resources at busy times when other vessels were being processed. As a result of this Felixstowe port eventually refused to allow UASC vessels to berth unless they were on schedule and so late-running UASC vessels were then diverted to London Gateway port where they did have the quayside capacity but not the road or rail services to move the extra cargo out of the port.

In addition to this, several months ago, Felixstowe port changed their port management system to a new system called nGen. The new system was introduced at extremely short notice and so carriers and the port community did not have time to prepare for the change and to implement contingency plans in case anything went wrong. There was no change-over period during which the old and new systems were run in tandem.

As a result of the poor implementation of nGen, when containers were being discharged , they were not being recorded correctly and at the same time, the port often couldn’t locate the correct export containers for vessels when they arrived. This led to vessels being kept at the port for long periods and eventually the owners were instructing their vessels to leave without discharging all their import cargo or loading their export cargo. Some carriers decided to switch to other port. Medite/Maersk decided to move their joint North American service to Liverpool. Liverpool had never handled an 8000 TEU vessel before and unfortunately it couldn’t cope as they didn’t have enough labour to work the vessels and load/discharge vehicles at the same time. There was a lot of congestion at Liverpool during that first week and it is still slow there now.

Southampton is running at capacity. COSCON at time shave not been allowing containers to be restituted to the quay or to deport sin Southampton after which then has a knock-on effect for the hauliers for the next day.

Felixstowe has a highly developed infrastructure especially in terms of rail links to/from the port and so more containers can be moved to/from the port by rail compared to road. At other ports such as Southampton, London Gateway and Liverpool, the rail links are not so good and so when they receive large vessel, this puts a very large demand on hauliers since most of the movement to/from these ports is by road.

The UK road haulage market continues to face ongoing challenges as a result of road congestion, a general shortage of vehicle, driver and rail availability, plus increased cargo volumes.

Some carriers are now setting their own rules for container collections/deliveries. One such carrier has reserved the right to be up to 90 minutes late, while still expecting any containers arriving within that period to be loaded or unloaded.

“We will give no consideration of extended free time or additional costs,” said the carrier. “Wasted journey costs will apply for any container arriving within this 90-minute period which is rejected for loading or unloading.”

BAR Overseas Group members have recently reported delays of 7-10 days in booking haulage out of London Gateway and Liverpool and they have received reports that two large container hauliers have stopped carrying from Southampton because the delays and extra costs have made it uneconomical to service this port at the current time.

Delays in loading and unloading vessels have also led to demurrage charges being incurred since containers are being left on the berth after the free-time period has expired.

Kind regards

Chris Mackley

Overseas Group Chairman