Thursday, December 31, 2020

As the UK Exits the EU so a New Way of Shipping Comes Into Fashion as Predicted

The Nature of Trailer Freight Evolves to Face the Future
Shipping News Feature

UK – As we have long predicted the exit of Britain from the European Community is leading a sea change, quite literally, to the way trailer freight will move between the two.

With politicians generally being behind the curve when it comes to how logistics actually works, those at the coal face, the road haulage operators, freight forwarders and port management companies, all long ago recognised the problems facing accompanied trailers, with concerns for long delays as new customs systems potentially struggle to cope.

Back of a fag packet solutions such as operation Brock, intended, not to deal with the problems but with the symptoms, have faced derision and the thousands of trucks recently parked up along Kentish motorways, byways and the local aerodrome, a crisis born overnight at the whim of the French authorities, illustrated the potential pitfalls graphically.

With a paucity of permits available to British hauliers many will now settle into a new role, operating as with container traffic, that is collecting unaccompanied trailers at the point of import or delivering loaded ones when correct export documents have been issued, and not before, rather than face the vagaries of crossing the Channel.

When the drivers stranded so recently were interviewed by the mainstream press not a single British truck was to be seen. The bulk of those caught up in the delays were from Eastern Europe, most decidedly unhappy with the French and many missing Christmas at home due to the virus contingency plans announced so rapidly.

For those in the industry that prevalence of foreign drivers is known to be the normal way of things, over the years we have witnessed a race to the bottom with regard to price, once British drivers shared parity with those from France, the Benelux and Germany, all were replaced, mainly by Greeks operating at lower rates, these giving way to Polish and now mainly Latvian and Estonian. Wages under EU rules are supposed to offer parity when driving in another Community state, a rule often ignored and now of no interest to Britons.

Some sectors of course, particularly carriage of fresh fruit and the like, is eminently suitable to accompanied transport and it is unlikely that trucks from Portugal and Spain will give way to an unaccompanied revolution whilst carrying perishables. However for much of the trade the switch has already begun, something borne out by the latest statistics from Forth Ports.

The group has reported a 20% increase in unaccompanied freight volumes between Tilbury and Zeebrugge in December using the newest port in the country, Tilbury2, a facility designed with this traffic largely in mind. P&O Ferries has added an additional freight ferry vessel to its purpose built RoRo terminal there where it uses the latest booking and border technology and streamlined customs procedures through AEO trusted trader status. Charles Hammond, chief executive of Forth Ports observes:

“Supply chains are realigning as they seek greater resilience and a low carbon route close to market, and our ports are ideally placed to support through our recent £260 million investment in infrastructure, market leading turnaround times and capacity for growth. The coronavirus pandemic has brought the UK’s vulnerabilities to the fore. However, breakdown presents an opportunity for breakthrough to create a more resilient UK.

"Having just completed the construction of the new £250 million Brexit-ready and CovidD-19 compliant freight ferry terminal, the opportunities for unaccompanied freight are boundless. Breakdown of production lines, unpredictable industrial relations and increasing pan-European lorry driver shortages have led many in the logistics industry to examine the reliability of their current delivery options.

"With passengers largely disappearing from ferries across the North Sea, The Channel and the Irish Sea, the coronavirus epidemic has completely changed the dynamics of the logistics industry. In the absence of a cross-subsidy from passengers to freight units, greater exposure of the true end-to-end cost of moving goods is emerging. Combine this with the need to abate climate change, reduce road congestion, tackle poor air quality and level up the economies of the regions, the momentum for change is growing.

"By bringing goods closer to the point of consumption or production, we could and should see new ferry and container shipping routes springing up. Combine this positive with the greater use of rail for inward distribution, unaccompanied freight is the answer to a number of the questions of our time."

According to Forth Ports the Tilbury-Zeebrugge RoRo route has recorded 7% annualised growth in the first six months of Tilbury2’s operation. Meanwhile London Container Terminal at Tilbury has added five new routes in 2020, stretching from North Africa to Norway, with a 35% increase in European trade this year alone.

As this demonstrates, unaccompanied freight by trailer is not the only possible solution of course, Scotland’s largest container port and another Forth facility, Grangemouth, which handles 30% of that nation's exports, has enhanced the frequency of its network connections to northern European’s industrial base through key hubs like Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, with new calls to the Benelux in 2020.