Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Future for RoRo Trailer Freight May Require a Major Shift Post Brexit

Uncertainty is Delaying Required Investment in Port Infrastructure
Shipping News Feature

UK – Peel Ports is calling for importers and exporters to more closely consider their tactics post Brexit if the potential for under capacity at Dover becomes a reality. Dover has a predominance of the UK's RoRo trailer traffic with 75% of the country's accompanied truck freight from ports on the near continent passing through the Dover Straits. This is in contrast to Irish Sea freight, where more than 50% of the cargo is unaccompanied. With this model, Peel Ports say goods can be held as contingency stock at the port of entry and trailers do not leave the port until up to 48 hours after their arrival in some circumstances.

Stephen Carr, Commercial Director at Peel Ports, believes such an approach would provide more time for border checks to take place without the pressure of them needing to be completed during a short sea crossing or at a congested border point. He says:

“Businesses simply can’t take a huge gamble on what that post-Brexit world might look like, especially those with ‘just-in-time’ processes or that are shipping perishable goods. They need to take steps now to ensure they can deliver goods on time without incurring massive extra costs or compromising on quality. That is perfectly achievable by moving away from the fixation with Dover and by using unaccompanied trailers as many companies do already on the Irish Sea.

“Cargo owners and their supply chain providers typically need freight units to leave ports immediately on arrival or just 90 minutes after vessel departure from Calais. But there’s no certainty in the industry that this can be achieved reliably post Brexit. Companies could look at creating stockpiles in UK warehouses that will allow them to meet business requirements in the event of any delays, but that results in long leases and increased road or rail mileage in diverting to warehouses, increased handling costs, and increased risk of damage to goods. Also, it’s not clear that such warehousing is available in sufficient supply or on flexible terms.

“The modelling that we’ve done shows that routing via ports such as London Medway is just as efficient as the existing options through the Dover Straits, as although the sea leg is longer road miles are reduced, door to door cargo owners might actually save money, as well as avoiding congestion and reducing carbon emissions. Other benefits include improved productivity for hauliers as drivers do not waste any time on the sea leg.”

Such an approach as that suggested will of course undoubtedly lead to delays plus potentially higher sea freight costs, both factors which proponents of the unaccompanied approach may argue, as does Stephen Carr, will be mitigated by the fact that the delays will be potentially less than those at the conventional Channel ports, whilst driver costs can be reduced, and the need for international driving permits, another area of contention with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) claiming there may be only 103 permits for British road haulage operators to cover 300,000 truck movements annually, will be avoided.

Peel Ports of course has a vested interest, the company operates four ports with RoRo capabilities in London Medway (Kent), Liverpool, Clydeport and Heysham (Lancashire) and, if the landscape is to change in the way the Peel Ports boss envisages, there will certainly need to be considerable investment by those ports hoping to steal a slice of the traffic.

Once again however we are left with the uncertainty which the failure to make any real progress regarding the trade situation during the Brexit negotiations has engendered. This position means that, although there may be those willing to invest in any relevant infrastructure, currently there is nobody able to predict exactly what the future holds for the British freight industry.

Photo: Ports such as Portsmouth with full RoRo capabilities may see new services commence if congestion at Dover peaks as some expect.