Thursday, January 28, 2021

Unaccompanied Trailer Numbers are Rising as Expected Post Brexit

Hauliers and Exporters Changing Habits
Shipping News Feature

UK – FRANCE – SPAIN – IRELAND – As we have pointed out many times previously concerns over potential border delays have elicited a change of tack for many exporters and hauliers with the expanded use of unaccompanied trailers, rather than those accompanied by a unit and driver.

Such traffic, while perhaps not always suitable for perishable or particularly valuable loads, can be as efficient as the alternative and even, in many cases, be less expensive. The trend has now been confirmed by Brittany Ferries which says demand is rising, and the ports it serves on the western Channel in France and the UK are amongst the best set-up to receive these driverless loads.

All ferry companies have reported reduced freight volumes in January as a consequence of Brexit fears and stockpiling by companies. However, while volumes are low, Brittany Ferries says the proportion of unaccompanied units is already much higher than in previous years. Galicia is Brittany Ferries’ newest Ro-Pax vessel, operating between Santander in Spain and Portsmouth. Since sailings began in early December, around 40% of Galicia’s freight has been unaccompanied trailers.

Further evidence comes from the workhorse of the Brittany Ferries fleet, Pelican. This freight-only ship has been operating since 2016, connecting Bilbao with Poole. Designed primarily for unaccompanied trailers, the vessel’s fill rates have risen so significantly that it is now the best performing freight ship in the Brittany Ferries fleet. Simon Wagstaff Brittany Ferries freight director, says:

“Of course, Pelican is an extremely versatile vessel which can take out-of-gauge shipments as well as unaccompanied units. It’s this flexibility in our fleet, combined with our ability to accommodate unaccompanied loads throughout our extensive route network that makes Brittany Ferries an attractive prospect for the year ahead. We are pleased too that freight is flowing well through our ports, without the queues that some forecast at the start of the year.

“Things like negative Covid tests for drivers are certainly helping drive the trend for unaccompanied loads. However, there are other financial benefits in going driverless. We know of one large haulage operation in Ireland for example, that has organised reciprocal arrangements with another in Spain, dropping off and picking up trailers for each other. That’s a cost-effective way of doing business.”

Brittany Ferries began as a freight-only operation in 1973. The first ship Kerisnel, was a converted Israeli tank-carrier. It had been chartered by French farmers to carry produce like cauliflowers and artichokes to the UK, a market that opened with the country’s entry into the EEC. However, the company quickly adapted. It turned to carrying passenger traffic (as well as freight) when it became clear the biggest export market was for British holiday makers visiting Brittany and then Normandy.

The company says it still moves quickly when opportunities arise. It opened a sea route connecting Ireland with Spain for the first time in 2018, predominantly for freight traffic. More recently it has brought forward the opening of a Rosslare - Cherbourg connection, as Irish, French and Spanish hauliers seek an alternative to the UK land-bridge, with the cost, time and administrative burden that this now brings.

Plans are in progress to open further freight routes, connecting Roscoff and St Malo in Brittany with Ireland. The aim is to finalise schedules as soon as possible and to commence operations in early February using Ro-Pax vessel Armorique. In a normal non-Covid year Brittany Ferries carries around 210,000 freight units with its twelve ships serving Caen, Cherbourg, Le Havre, Saint-Malo and Roscoff in France, Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth in the UK, Santander and Bilbao in Spain and Cork & Rosslare in Ireland.