felixstowe © Nigel Baker
© Nigel Baker

The embattled UK port of Felixstowe has again had to revert to refusing to accept empty containers, in a continuing effort to clear its congestion backlog.

According to customer notice from Taiwanese line Evergreen to UK shippers and forwarders, the port this morning announced it would “temporarily stop the restitution of all empty containers until further notice”.

UK forwarders said the ban would mean further challenges to inland container operations already suffering from severe congestion.

Many hauliers and forwarders have blamed the port itself – in particular its decision to furlough large numbers of staff in the wake of the first national lockdown – and its vehicle booking system (VBS).

However, the port has begun to publish a daily VBS booking summary, which shows how many bookingslots were released and how many went unused.

Today’s summary shows that on Thursday and Friday last week there were 4,563 VBS slots released each day, with 23% unused on Thursday and 29% unused on Friday.

Over the weekend, VBS capacity was curtailed, with 2,521 slots released on Saturday, of which 56% were unused, and 1,020 slots yesterday, of which 27% were unused. It said 4,605 bookings were released today.

Meanwhile, Evergreen added that it was still able to accept delivery of empty containers at Tilbury, Liverpool, Teesport and Immingham, and was continuing to investigate other supply chain options.

It said: “Alternatively, if it is a possible solution, please keep hold of empty units until the port of Felixstowe opens up empty restitution again. Since laden containers can still be accepted onto quays, units used as export reloads are also welcomed.”

However, it appears that other options are fast becoming as congested as Felixstowe, with increasingly frequent reports of vessels ‘cutting and running’ at alternative UK ports.

One forwarder told The Loadstar today: “Ocean freight is screwed from start to finish.

“Every single touch point is calamitous,” he added citing the call of the APL Chongqing at London Gateway over the weekend, “unloading some cargo, but only a bit, and then heading off with most of its UK cargo on board – I don’t think it even picked up any exports”.

However, a spokesperson for London Gateway clarified the APL Chongqing’s container exchange during the call: “800 boxes were unloaded and around 360 export boxes were loaded. There were 60 boxes left on the vessel, but this was in agreement with the customer.”

According to the eeSea liner database, the 10,100 teu vessel is deployed on the Europe-Middle East/Indian subcontinent EPIC2 service operated by CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd and Cosco, with ONE and OOCL as slot-charterers.

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  • Chris Gosling

    November 03, 2020 at 10:38 am

    Worth remembering that Felixstowe’s VBS spreads over 2 terminals; Landguard (berths 8 and 9) which hauliers say is now an empty container graveyard so only used for live import collections – hence the disparity on vbs issued vs used.
    There are certainly unused slots on Trinity on weekdays, but most of these are during unsocial hours – it is impossible within normal legal drivers working hours to collect a box from the port at 2am when there are slots, then drive to a delivery point 4 hours away to arrive at noon, then drive back after unloading.
    If every delivery point were open 24 hours like the port, it could be make to work, but releasing VBS at the same rate throughout the night doesn’t automatically make them of use to the haulage community.