UK Supply Chain Under Strain
Commentary from Peter Williams, Trade Flow Analyst at VesselsValue.
With the conclusion of the 8 day Felixstowe port strike on the evening of Sunday 28th August, and no agreement between the Port Operator Hutchinson Ports and their Felixstowe employees being made, we saw congestion at the port drastically increase. Using our newly released Congestion model, we can see that despite the 12 day notice given of the strike, not all Container operators have been able to make alternative voyage plans, culminating in waiting times at Felixstowe port climbing towards year highs.
Figure 1 shows that average waiting times shot up from the extremely efficient 10 hours at the beginning of August, to the 30 hour mark. Recent history has shown that Containers have had to wait up to 40 hours to enter Felixstowe back in March, however, the current decrease in the waiting time suggests that the fallout from the most recent strike has reached its apex. With the accumulation of empty shoreside Containers, the time taken for Felixstowe congestion to revert to normality will largely depend on how long it takes the port to process this backlog, something that retailers will be closely monitoring as they prepare for the festive spending period.
Figure 1: Average Waiting Times for Containerships at Felixstowe.
As covered in our previous article on Felixstowe, the significant waiting times during August 2021 caused liners to divert their operations to neighbouring ports. Recent waiting times reached similar levels, with diversions appearing to have materialised. Figure 2 shows that, with the exception of Rotterdam, the amount of TEU that has headed to Felixstowe’s neighbouring ports during the strike period has increased compared to the same duration last year. This shows that a number of Container operators had sufficient flexibility in their schedule to accommodate the 8 day strike. For example, Maersk, one of the world’s largest liner companies, released an online advisory confirming that four of their vessels were omitting Felixstowe from their schedule altogether, including their ULCV, the 19,000 TEU MSC Sveva that stopped in La Havre and Antwerp before sailing back East.
Figure 2: Container Journeys to Neighbouring Ports, by TEU.
Optimists will hope that because the Felixstowe congestion has been caused by a fixed term event, it will soon return to normal levels. However, with threats of further and more sustained strikes at Felixstowe, along with the employees at Liverpool’s port confirming industrial action between the 19th of September and 3rd of October, those involved at all levels of the supply chain will continue to plan UK stoppages with caution.
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