The Port of Felixstowe, UK’s major container gateway for international trade, continues to experience operational delays due to a new terminal operating system installed in June 2018. Following the setup of new storage areas, productivity for vessel and port operations has recently regained 80 per cent of the level prior to the system change. However, issues regarding load cycles, including both ship and train loading, reportedly persist. In addition, vessels’ berthing and truck turnaround times have increased, causing onward connections, in particular inland rail services, to be missed. According to port officials, no compensation has so far been offered to trucking companies and freight forwarders, despite calls by the UK Road Haulage Association to do so.
In the immediate aftermath of the installation, the new operating system caused 16-hour long tailbacks of trucks outside of the port area, significantly affecting delivery and collection slots for road haulers. This prompted some carriers to divert vessels to alternative ports, including Southampton, London Gateway, Zeebrugge and Antwerp. The impact from the Felixstowe congestion has not only affected supply chains in the UK, but has also caused knock-on delays for customers at North European, Scandinavian and Baltic ports, as vessel schedules have been severely disrupted. Cargo bound for the Port of Helsingborg in Sweden has reportedly been delayed for 12 days due to missed transshipments in Felixstowe.
Although congestion issues are anticipated to last until mid-August, container lines such as Maersk Line and Hamburg Sued have opted to redirect vessels on transatlantic services from Felixstowe to Liverpool for the next 12 weeks, i.e. until mid-October 2018, to increase service reliability. From mid-July 2018, Maersk Line offers direct connections between Liverpool and New York, Charleston and Savannah on the US East Coast. The move may strengthen Liverpool’s position as a UK container hub for transatlantic exports; it has been seeking to attract container lines to its GBP 400 million deep-water Liverpool 2 container terminal, which opened in 2016. Other shipping lines, including MSC, have begun to use feeder services or main line vessels at hub ports such as Zeebrugge and Le Havre for discharging UK-bound cargo and connecting international exports from the UK. In particular for import cargo to the UK, customers are advised to expect longer transit times of about 1 week due to transshipment at other ports or the direct discharges in Liverpool.