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Felixstowe: the problems at UK’s biggest shipping port

Lorry driver shortages are contributing to delays at key port

Significant delays at the UK’s biggest container port pose a threat to the Christmas shopping season as retailers struggle to bring goods into the country.

Shoppers have been warned to buy their goods for the holiday season in a “timely fashion” or run the risk of finding items missing from shelves.

Peter Wilson, group managing director of the Cory Brothers shipping agency, told listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to “be sensible, think ahead” and “order your Christmas goods and the items that you need in a timely fashion to ensure that you have them”.

“There is a potential nearer to Christmas to see some items maybe not being available on the shelves, but this supply chain will not fail,” he added. 

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, urged people not to panic buy, but suggested they start their normal Christmas shopping earlier. “If you see something you want, now is the time to buy as retailers have most of their Christmas stock, but we can’t guarantee having supplies of everything over the next few weeks,” he said.

The warnings come after the Financial Times (FT) reported that Maersk, the world’s largest container-shipping company, is diverting container ships away from the UK’s main port in Felixstowe because it is “rammed full of containers”.

The Danish shipping group has been forced to send vessels away from UK ports because of a significant build-up of cargo. 

This is partly due to the UK’s lorry driver shortage, which means that it is “taking longer in the UK, relative to other countries, to get fully loaded containers moved away from ports and to return the empty ones for pick-up”, reported the paper.

“We had to stop operations on a ship because there was nowhere to discharge the containers. Felixstowe is among the top two or three worst-hit terminals [globally]. We are having to deviate some of the bigger ships away from Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for the cargo,” said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of the global ocean network at Maersk. “We did it for a little while over the summer and now we’re starting to do it again.”

Felixstowe port has said a shortage of drivers meant it was taking “about ten days before cargo could be taken inland to be unloaded”, rather than “the usual four-and-a-half days”. However, the port said that the “situation was improving”, with more space for imports than at any other time since July, “when supply-chain impacts first started to bite”.

Problems at shipping ports are “not just confined to the UK”, said the BBC. Ports across the world are suffering “significant delays”, with retailers facing issues in China and east Asia, where “pandemic restrictions and poor weather conditions” have also affected shipping.

Dozens of ships are also waiting outside ports in America and Asia, said Sarah Treseder, chief executive of the trade group UK Chamber of Shipping.

“We anticipate the disruption will continue while the underlying market volatility stabilises,” she told the broadcaster.

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