Logistics bosses call for ‘sensible flexibilities’ to ease ports logjam

Tug At Felixstowe

Logistics leaders want government to help ease congestion at ports - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The logistics sector’s ‘big beasts’ have called on government to help clear port congestion. 

The Port of Felixstowe has suffered congestion for weeks and the problem has now reportedly spread to the Port of Southampton.
Disruption to shipping movements around the world — partly caused by the pandemic — is being blamed.

But the UK has the added problem of the build-up to its final exit from the European Union on January 1, with stockpiling in anticipation of a hard Brexit and bottlenecks at ports.

Nine logistics leaders — including Bob Sanguinetti of UK Chamber of Shipping, Tim Morris of UK Major Ports Group, Richard Ballantyne of the British Ports Association and Richard Burnett of the Road Haulage Association — have written to transport secretary Grant Shapps warning the problem could take time to ease.

“Although we are hopeful that the current peak of port congestion has passed, high volumes remain and could persist for some months, running into the period of the end of the EU transition,” they say.

“Therefore challenges remain. The current situation has arisen in part from imbalances that accumulated over months. Reversing this accumulation is not an overnight task.”

Pandemic volatility has hit shipping patterns through lockdown and changes in consumer behaviour around ecommerce, they say, which has affected the main arteries of global trade. “Ports all around the world, from Sydney to Los Angeles, are experiencing significant congestion in shipping container movements. Demand has surged and there are significant issues at Asian ports causing disruption at source which ripples across the world. 

“This recent trend is on the back of global imbalances that have built up in the location of shipping containers following disruption to the normal ‘conveyor belt’ of mega-vessels moving between Asia and Europe or North America.”

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Local issues in the UK are adding to the complexity, they add. The run-up to Christmas is traditionally busy but firms are stockpiling ahead of the end of January 1.

“The requirements of large volumes of personal protective equipment (PPE) have played a role. And although the logistics sectors have remained highly resilient and operational throughout the pandemic, there is inevitably an influence.” 

Urgent action is needed on container movement which “has until very recently received little attention in the government’s planning”, they say.

They are calling for “sensible flexibilities and easements” to enable the logistics industry to cope, principally around the movement of containers on and off ports.