Friday, October 15, 2021

You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry, Santa Claus Ain’t Coming to Town

(or Maybe He is and This is Just Another Press Induced Panic)
Shipping News Feature

UK – So once again the parlous state of the British press is making major headlines based on the problems currently blighting the shipping sector - like we didn't know. We have witnessed supply chain problems since the start of the pandemic, not that this is the sole reason for what is happening now.

Having finally noticed the driver shortage organs such as the BBC have woken up to the fact that container traffic is suffering, particularly at major ports such as Felixstowe and the fact that Maersk for one has diverted some of its larger box vessels to other European ports for the containers to return via smaller feeder vessels.

The over the top headlines met with a typically sanguine and measured response from such as the British International Freight Association (BIFA) which speaks for its freight forwarding members to say they remain committed to delivering a suitably festive Yuletide, despite a seasonal whirlwind of speculative worry and rumour that this year’s Christmas festivities in around ten weeks may just not happen as a result of the current supply chain challenges.

BIFA Director General Robert Keen observed that, once again, it is time to maintain a sense of perspective, or the headlines may become a self-fulfilling prophecy (witness the recent petrol crisis). He commented:

“Many products that consumers are beginning to fear will be absent from shop shelves could well have been shipped and received by retailers already. If we see normal purchasing patterns, we should also see that most of what consumers are seeking will be available to purchase. After all, we need to remember that more TEU were shipped successfully in August 2021 than in August 2019 before the pandemic. There is plenty of cargo being moved around.

“Are there major operational challenges, currently? Yes, of course, but our members and freight forwarders across the world, that are responsible for managing the supply chains that underpin global trade, are moving hell and high water to address them and doing their part to ensure that the forthcoming holiday season will go ahead as well as possible.

“The wider public may now appreciate why it is known as a supply chain. If one link breaks, such as when in March this year the Suez Canal was blocked for six days by the grounding of a container ship, the chain breaks for everyone. The current publicised issues raise further awareness about the importance of the growing and exciting supply chain management and logistics sector.

“It should also put the precarious balancing act of supply chain management into perspective and hopefully lead to a deeper appreciation from the consumer for end products, and the essential role of the freight industry in delivering them.”

Whilst BIFA accepts that moving boxes from the ports to destinations inland is one of the biggest issues facing retailers and the freight forwarders that serve them in the run up to Christmas, Keen hopes that as port congestion reduces, as it inevitably will, the headline writers will be equally vocal as backlogs are eased and containers are delivered.

He also feels that this latest focus on the problems faced in global logistics will act as an opportunity for the industry to demonstrate to the general public both the significance and magnitude of modern supply chains, as well as how vulnerable they can be.

So it seems that worries about food in the table at Christmas has been replaced by a concern over a shortage of toys and electrical items, something many in the UK may consider no bad thing. Worried by the headlines it seem many are attending to the Christmas shopping extra early this year.

Most households have a freezer to take care of some of those seasonal delicacies, whilst many in the country are heard to complain that they cannot buy anything of substance that doesn’t emanate from China, a dependence they find worrying. Now the current situation may offer the chance to look more locally for those Christmas gift items and perhaps stimulate some native businesses into producing more.

Photo: Courtesy of the Port of Felixstowe.