Maersk hijacks large freighters from UK as Felixstowe fills up
Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, is diverting large ships from the UK because the country’s main port is overflowing with containers.
The Danish group has started hijacking huge ships from Felixstowe, which handles 36% of the country’s containerized freight, instead unloading cargo bound for the UK in Europe for smaller ships to transport to the island nation.
Lars Mikael Jensen, head of the global ocean network in Maersk, said the shortage of truck drivers meant it took longer for the UK, compared to other countries, to move fully loaded containers from ports and return the voids for pickup. .
âWe had to stop operations on a ship because there was nowhere to unload the containers. Felixstowe is among the two or three most affected terminals [globally]. We have to divert some of the bigger ships in Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for cargo, âhe said.
“We did it for a little while over the summer and now we’re starting to do it again.”
The unrest at the UK’s largest container port comes as retailers stockpile goods ahead of Christmas shopping season.
While saying the products would be widely available over Christmas, Jensen warned that retailers may have to prioritize what they ship.
Port congestion has been rampant around the world since late last year, when the pandemic wreaked havoc in supply chains, triggering volatile demand for goods, factory closures and restricted operations in the ports. As a result, shipping a container from China to Europe costs more than six times more than a year ago.
However, the situation in UK ports has been particularly dire due to the severe shortage of truck drivers.
The Port of Felixstowe said a shortage of drivers meant it took around 10 days before cargo could be moved inland for unloading, compared to the usual four and a half days. It said “the situation is improving”, adding that it now has the largest space for inbound containers since early July.
Last week, the port imposed restrictions on receiving empty containers from Maersk and Evergreen, but it started accepting them again.
âThe pre-Christmas peak, combined with transport shortages, congested inland terminals, poor reliability of ship schedules and the pandemic, resulted in a build-up of containers in the port,â the port said.
“Empty container levels remain high as import containers are being returned and we are asking shipping lines to remove them as quickly as possible.”
John Manners-Bell, an analyst at consultancy firm Transport Intelligence, said Maersk’s move was “symptomatic” of supply chain problems around the world. “These changes in strategy for shipping companies are going to happen more and more often,” he said.
Some importers, like Tesco, have diverted containers to the rail freight network due to the shortage of drivers. Air freight volumes are also being pushed up by the lack of capacity in ports.
Alex Veitch, deputy director of public policy at Logistics UK, which represents the freight industry, warned that congested ports could become a “serious problem for UK supply chains”.
“Companies are working around the clock to find alternative routes to bring goods into the UK while the situation in Felixstowe improves,” he said.