Following a dip in freight volumes in December, ferry operator DFDS reports truck crossings on Dover to Calais and Dunkirk routes have increased and could surpass January 2020 and 2019 figures.

According to the carrier, December cargo volumes, adjusted to account for route changes, were down 9.8% on the same month of 2020, but up 17% compared with 2019.

“The decrease in total volumes compared with 2020 was entirely due to lower volumes on all UK routes as stock-building ahead of Brexit boosted volumes considerably on UK routes last year,” said DFDS.

“Most of the UK routes are part of the North Sea and Channel business units which, in December 2021, were both above 2019 [ freight levels].”

Speaking exclusively to The Loadstar, Chris Parker, director of capacity and commercial performance at DFDS in Dover, said while there had been a substantial increase in freight using direct sailings out of Rosslare to Dunkirk, these volumes were too small – one ship a week – to reduce the landbridge freight volumes from France to the UK and back into the EU via Ireland.

“Dover remains the predominant import/export route for cargo,” he added.

Mr Parker’s comments on volumes are perhaps the more remarkable when the substantial reduction in capacity on its Channel services are taken into account. DFDS would normally send ferries for refurbishment one at a time, but with ferries needing to return by Easter they had to send two – one vessel each from the Dunkirk and Calais routes – reducing capacity by a third. And P&O Ferries have also sent a vessel for refurbishment, further reducing capacity.

One of the changes Brexit has brought is the requirement for passengers and truck drivers to have visas to travel to the EU, which will take time to verify and, along with increased customs checks, could see queues building in Dover as a result.

At the moment the Dover TAP, as the Traffic Assessment Project is known, is in operation for the 13th time this year, but Mr Parker said this was normal traffic management – there were no real delays at the port, he added.

“Serious delays at the port will see Operations Stack and Brock in action,” said Mr Parker.

Local freight forwarder Priority Freight’s operations director, Andrew Austin told The Loadstar: “There has been no great congestion,” adding that the processing of documents had been reasonably straight forward.

“Any delays to shipments has come from a lack of information from the shipper,” claimed Mr Austin, who says the greater challenges are yet to come. In July, new phyto-sanitary regulations are due to be introduced and, in September, the EU will bring in biometric recognition requirements, similar to those seen at airports where fingerprints are taken at the border.

Meanwhile a port of Dover spokesperson said: ““A20 Dover TAP has indeed been used on a number of occasions over the past week. TAP is a well-established and regularly used normal operational tool to help manage traffic flows into the port and protect local roads from congestion by freight traffic, as it has been over several years for times when demand exceeds available capacity.

“In conjunction with managing significant freight volumes, several ferries are away on re-fit (as is normal at this time of year) and there are external highway works impacting the port’s holding capacity. These recent supplementary factors, when added to the already increased time to pass through the port following the introduction of further customs controls on 1 January, have led to the activation of Dover TAP, which has been able to support the volume of traffic we have experienced so far during this period.”

The Loadstar visited the A20 access road to the port of Dover this morning and counted a lorry queue totalling 282 units.

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