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Ports refuse empties

The challenge of finding HGV driver resource and unpredictable vessel schedules, means that container delivery moves are failing, with unclaimed imports building up and rising container stack levels prompting Felixstowe and London Gateway to start refusing empty containers.

The shortage of HGV drivers, inefficient port operations and the lowest vessel schedule reliability in history are leading to delays with deliveries and collections and means that 30% to 40% of liner haulage moves are failing and shipping lines have very few bookings until later in November.

Despite the lines extending their haulage booking time from one week to over a month, they are not waiving port storage and demurrage charges. The alternative to liner haulage – merchant haulage – may attract additional LoLo costs, but it does offer the opportunity to avoid storage and demurrage charges and it is a more flexible alternative.

The situation is extending container dwell times significantly, with equipment overflows threatening ports operations and putting them in danger of grinding to a complete halt.

In a Financial Times report, Felixstowe said a shortage of drivers meant that it was taking about 10 days before cargo could be taken inland to be unloaded, up from the usual four-and-a-half days.

Last Wednesday, Felixstowe suspended Evergreen, Maersk and CMA CGM empty returns, with London Gateway placing embargoes on Hapag Lloyd and Maersk empty container restitution on Thursday.

It is possible that other carriers may be restricted by the ports, but there is no indication as yet that there will be a blanket ban on all empty equipment, or export deliveries.

At the moment we are facing additional time and costs to divert the return of empty boxes to alternative depots and the fear is the situation may deteriorate further, particularly if blanket bans are imposed, or other ports follow suit.

The lines have been temporarily redirecting empties around the country, with drop-off locations including Tilbury, Liverpool, Teesport and the port of Tyne

Drop-off locations are “subject to change” at any time and are often geographically undesirable. We are in constant contact with the lines restitution teams to try and mitigate any impact on our full load customers, but some additional costs will be unavoidable.