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East Anglia Future 50

Premier of port hampered by technical hitches says "We're over the worst of it"

PUBLISHED: 16:43 18 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:44 18 July 2018

The Port of Felixstowe's new Portmaster, Ashley Parker  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Port of Felixstowe's new Portmaster, Ashley Parker Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Felixstowe Port says it will soon be back to "business as usual", after being hampered by severe delays which have led some shipping companies diverting their ships to other ports.

Looking towards the sea, along the line of quays of the Port of Felixstowe Picture: MIKE PAGELooking towards the sea, along the line of quays of the Port of Felixstowe Picture: MIKE PAGE

The setbacks were blamed on a new IT operating system that was brought in on June 10 in order to boost productivity.

The delays in processing cargo resulting from technical hitches have led to the shipping company Maersk Line diverting two of its services from Felixstowe to the Port of Liverpool for 12 weeks, and Hamburg Süd diverting ships to Southampton.

But harbour master Ashley Parker claims the worst is over, and expects to be back to “business as usual” in the coming weeks.

Felixstowe, which is the biggest container port in the UK, brought in the new nGen terminal operating system in order to combine the five different operating programmes previously used for moving boxes around the Hutchison-operated port.

The Port of Felixstowe's new Portmaster, Ashley Parker  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe Port of Felixstowe's new Portmaster, Ashley Parker Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

But earlier this month, one source described the situation to the Loadstar news website as “absolute chaos”, with data still having to be manually input, pushing productivity down to around 50%.

“Working the vessels is the biggest problem,” said the source, adding that ships are having to “cut and run, and not even able to load empties”.

Mr Parker admitted that the new, more powerful system had caused “a few problems.” “Its slowed everything down,” he explained. “Like with any new change of computer system, these changes cause problems. We’re getting more used to the system and tweaking it as we develop it.”

Mr Parker explained that there is no easy solution, because ports are not generic. “A system that works well in Shanghai or Barcelona won’t necessarily work well here.”

Recent technical improvements mean the port is now able to function at about 90% of its previous capacity. “The speed is getting up. Initially we were doing 12 moves per hour per crane, now we’re back up to 20-odd. We’d like to ultimately get it to 30 moves an hour on these big ships. But we’re moving in the right direction.”

As for the ships diverting their routes, Mr Parker believes it’s only for the short term.

“Because we’re taking longer to handle the ships here, and they’re still coming en route from China, instead of waiting at anchor for a birth to become free they’re going somewhere else to discharge. But I’ve been told that our customers are committed to Felixstowe because all the infrastructure is here, and they know the system here.”

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