Leading UK box ports restrict return of empty containers 

Stuart Todd | Friday, 08 October 2021

Felixstowe and London Gateway suspend restitutions from certain carriers, according to forwarder.

The current difficulties facing container haulage in the UK, due to the severe shortage of HGV drivers, are being compounded by two of the country’s leading ports for ocean shipping imposing restrictions on the return of empty boxes due to congestion issues.

Earlier this week, the Port of Felixstowe suspended the return of Evergreen, Maersk and CMA CGM empty containers and other carriers may be similarly restricted by the port over the coming days,  forwarder Metro Shipping  told customers in a Supply Chain Alert.

The company has also been advised  that London Gateway has put an embargo on Hapag Lloyd and Maersk empty container restitution with immediate effect.

It said: “There is no indication yet that there could be a bar on all restitutions and export deliveries, but in the meantime we are facing additional time and costs to divert the return of empty boxes to alternative depots and the fear is the situation may deteriorate further, particularly if other ports follow, the company said.

Highlighting the lack of HGV drivers, Metro Shipping said this was  “creating ever more problems with container retrieval and delivery, leading directly to unavoidable storage, detention and demurrage issues - complicated further this week by Evergreen reducing their free time to 5 five days on quay.

“Our transport team are working flat-out to protect our customers, but this is a fast developing situation, which we will (as always) keep you updated on.”

Focusing on the government’s plan to relax the visa scheme to allow 5,000 truckers from Europe into the country for a temporary period to ease the driver shortage, the company noted:

“Despite the prime minister’s party conference promises, it is reported (that) only a handful (27) of foreign drivers have applied for temporary visas, (as of earlier this week) So the HGV driver shortage in the UK, will continue to extend container dwell times and raises the likelihood that carriers will consider skipping UK port calls until the import backlog eases at the main gateway ports.

‘The prime minister was right on one point. The UK does have a "world leading" logistics industry and we will fix the issues. Because it's what our customers - the importers and exporters that drive our economy – deserve.”

Container haulage costs ‘more than doubled’

Last week, in an interview with Lloyd’s Loading List,Mike Bowden,  group marketing and procurement manager at another UK-based forwarder, Cory Brothers, underlined that the severe shortage of HGV drivers was having a very dramatic effect on container haulage and had brought further disruption to the import supply chain.

“Our planning, usually undertaken months in advance of shipment dates, has been turned on its head. Container haulage costs have more than doubled in most cases and the situation is worsening by the day.

He added: “The container haulage situation is now of more concern to us than getting the box from Asia to the UK.”

Air freight

In its Supply Chain Alert, Metro Shipping also warned customers  that “as China’s Golden Week comes to an end, pent-up demand will hit air freight capacity hard next week, with an almost guaranteed impact on rates.”

Customers were invited to contact the company “asap, if you have time-sensitive consignments, so that we can look at hitting your deadlines. We are part of the solution and not the cause of the issues after all!”

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