An increase in container volumes in the rush to beat China’s Golden Week holidays and technical issues with the Port of Felixstowe’s vehicle Booking System (VBS) has resulted severe congestion at the port according to freight forwarders’ association BIFA.
According to the British International Freight Association (BIFA) congestion at the port means that forwarders are no longer able to return empty containers to the port.
"The operational performance at Felixstowe has been very challenging for some time, but over the last 24-48 hours the issues have escalated to a level that could be disastrous for our members' businesses, which have already been hard hit by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Robert Keen, director general at BIFA.
According to the association the self-styled ‘Port of Britain’ is offering an “appalling service” that is costing port users money in demurrage, and quay rental costs as well as forcing truck drivers to deliver containers to an off-site container park increasing costs that forwarders will not be able to pass on to their customers.
"At the very least, the port authority should extend free-time for quay rent and demurrage," complained Keen.
Forwarders are further protesting that the port authority is not taking complaints seriously, only “paying lip-service,” to issues raised and that says BIFA is unacceptable from a port authority.
BIFA said that Felixstowe has offered a poor service for the past two years. "The debacle in 2018, when the port undertook a disastrous migration to a new in-house terminal operating system appears to be at the root of the current VBS problems, which is exacerbating the congestion problems caused by other issues; including a huge increase in container moves ahead of the Golden Week in China; reduced container moves per hour at the quayside and serious staffing issues,” said Keen.
One BIFA member commented, "We are being hugely impacted by the problems at Felixstowe in particular moving (well trying) three-five containers per day, financially it’s very hard to put a cost on it but not so hard concerning reputation, that’s just being ruined hand over fist at the moment – we are experiencing failed deliveries that are cancelled on the day by the haulier, wasted journeys and storage charges because clients can’t take delivery later than the original agreed time because their warehouse is fully booked."
He went on to say that Maersk, MSC, Evergreen and Cosco are 'banned' from returning empties to Felixstowe due tot he congestion so "we are being forced to pay diversion charges to restitute empty containers!"
Container News, has contacted the Port of Felixstowe for comment and a spokeman directed readers to a statement on the port's website homepage, which said, "We are currently experiencing a high demand for both road and rail capacity. The situation has been caused by a sharp spike in import container volumes, along with a high proportion of late vessel arrivals.
"The weekly import volume for the last two weeks has been over 30% higher than average levels.
"This is exacerbated by unusually high levels of empty containers at the port and the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis on resource availability." The statement went on to list a number of remedial measures being taken. The statement can be read here.