The lifting of lockdown restrictions, the implementation of increased sanitisation, reduction of staffing hours and Autumn’s inclement weather have all taken their toll on UK port operations and UK logistics.
At Britain’s premier port, Felixstowe, sustained pressure is affecting movement of freight throughout the UK both for imports and export shipments.
The immediate challenges being faced by the industry include:
- Reduced haulage availability both from the shipping lines and from the merchant network
- Increase in time taken to off-load containers from arriving vessels
- Import containers missing rail connections due to the above
- Vessels omitting calling at Felixstowe and re-planning routes
- A reduction in the number of empty containers received at the port
- Increased distance for hauliers to return empties impacting on driving hours and inland costs
HOW THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS WREAKING HAVOC AT PORTS
The required sanitisation of the “booking in” reception area at all UK ports implemented to try to control the COVID-19 pandemic sees the office closed for fours per day (two hours in the morning and again in the evening). This has caused delays for hauliers arriving to collect laden containers and ones returning the unloaded boxes.
In addition, the port authorities have reduced the total number of VBS (Vehicle Booking System) slots by around a third, in an attempt to control the number of drivers that are in the port at one time, again in line with COVID secure practices. A 30% reduction in staffing levels, as a result of sickness or self-isolation, are also having an impact with both shipside and landside operations currently running under resourced.
With two recent severe weather fronts, high winds caused the port cranes to cease operation for several days causing backlogs and forcing some vessels to re-arrange port calls resulting in further delays.
Haulage organised directly with the shipping lines is now being booked up to four weeks in advance to handle the number of off-loaded containers. This in turn puts pressure on to the merchant haulier network to pick up the short fall.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BOOKING DELIVERY SLOTS IN ADVANCE
In light of the above, you might have noticed that AFS Global are looking to book your container delivery slots further in advance than usual.
Operations team member Rob Flannery explains that “in order to reserve a delivery slot and secure haulage, we are currently booking deliveries in an extra 5/7 days earlier than usual to protect our customer intake requirements”.
However, this means that we are booking deliveries before the vessels have docked in the UK.
This can be seen as a high-risk strategy, but one we feel is essential in the current climate. If booking haulage is left too late i.e. when the vessel physically arrives, the reduced availability can result in unexpected storage charges at the port and, more importantly, a delay for our customers receiving their goods.
As always we will handle the controllable aspects and do whatever we can to influence the uncontrollable ones.