Monday, October 15, 2018

Port of Felixstowe Problems Continue as Empty Containers Stack Up Elsewhere and Haulage Rates Rocket

Freight Forwarders and Hauliers Alike Continue to Complain
Shipping News Feature
UK – It is now over four months since Hutchison Ports installed its nGen terminal operating system (TOS) at the Port of Felixstowe, a system which it had already fitted in 25 of its managed ports worldwide. The ongoing delays and problems ever since have been well documented, vessels diverted to other ports, road haulage drivers facing long waits to collect or deliver containers, sometimes without the benefit of basic facilities.

Initially Hutchison was giving out prominent bulletins on the home page of its website, detailing progress and promising a rapid recovery, but these have seemingly ceased and were decried at the time as giving an inaccurate depiction of the facts by many stakeholders. Speaking to hauliers, freight forwarders and shipping lines the picture today seems to remain unsatisfactory for many, if not all, of those we spoke to.

One of the biggest complaints was that vessels were, and are, being diverted to other ports, principally the DP World facilities at Southampton. These ports then started to suffer delays and became another target for those complaining about levels of service. Now DP World has commented on the situation at the Hampshire terminal and assured those concerned that the picture today is very different. Having issued a notice regarding very high stack levels DP World tell us the situation has improved with no congestion and truck turnaround times back to their expected operational levels.

Empty container numbers at Southampton remain extremely high however and the dwell time (the length of time a container stays in the terminal before it is picked up or shipped out) is higher than average. This has of course impacted stack levels which remain high and therefore slow the whole operation. Landside weekend opening hours will remain extended until further notice and DP World is currently waiving the normal Saturday charge and opening all day on Sunday for no extra cost. A weblink here will advise interested parties of:

  • What vessels are alongside and working
  • How many containers are in the DP World yard including the number of empties and imports
  • The average truck turnaround time including how many appointments have been issued by DPWS versus how many booking appointments have been made by haulage companies
  • How many vehicles are currently waiting in each transfer area to get their slot, using a traffic light system to indicate how busy landside operations are at the time
Meanwhile in Felixstowe the situation remains less clear and the port website less transparent. Amongst the freight forwarders we canvassed one commented:

”Ships don’t arrive or are put back whilst others simply cut and run. If they are due elsewhere they simply sail and make way on the berth for another vessel which has been waiting, heading for another port and discharging there instead. One CSCL vessel arrived at the berth 16 days late, we get no feedback from the port management and in fact feel that they use any excuse to charge us extras, such as demurrage.

”Any problems, perhaps something like a Bill of Lading not properly endorsed, they demand a letter explaining, then invoice for attendance. They bill for demurrage in a situation which they have caused as it is impossible to get jobs urgently collected for distribution with haulage rates for such consignments having gone through the roof due to their incompetence.”

The mood from local hauliers mirrored that attitude, despite the situation being described as ‘better than before’ there were still complaints from all those we spoke to. Although indeed the situation has improved it certainly has not returned to pre nGen levels. Maersk Line for example stated today that they believe DP World Southampton was at 98% yard density and commented on the difficulties of switching haulage operations from a port over 150 miles away (240 in the case of Liverpool).

Maersk had two services temporarily rerouted from Felixstowe to Liverpool: the TA2 and TA4 (both Transatlantic) with the TA2 service now returned to Felixstowe, making the last Liverpool call on 29th August. The TA4 service however is still being diverted to Liverpool for the foreseeable future. MSC had to tranship UK bound import cargo at Zeebrugge and ship via feeder services as well as making use of DP World’s London Gateway for services such as the IPAK routing.