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Hauliers are beginning to pull capacity from the port of Liverpool amid continued delays, but operator Peel pledged it was “working round the clock” to resume normal service, and had opened its gates on a 24/7 basis.
Turnaround times at Terminal 1 of the Peel Ports-operated Seaforth Gateway have trebled over the past six months, from two to more than six hours, according to drivers, following a surge of shortsea intra-Europe services seeking to use the Mersey.
MD of group ports David Huck told The Loadstar: “We did not anticipate this migration to shortsea services and the associated surge in demand. Our yard density has increased as a result, as too has the number of hauliers, making it hard to shift boxes.
“Further compounding the problem is that we had to sterilise space for the erection of new ship-to-shore cranes – a short-term pain that will lead to a long-term gain.
“So, it’s a combination of things creating a short-term problem, but we know we’re not operating at the level we want to be at, and it categorically has our full attention.”
The port has now opened its gates to hauliers on a 24/7 basis, and Mr Huck said Peel had begun a drive to recruit 150 new employees and, “in all likelihood”, it would be further expanding its recruitment programme to resolve the problems at the terminal.
He has personally apologised to the haulage community for the port’s failings, an effort one haulier described as a “grudging apology, followed by 500kg of rhubarb”, and one that “lacked any commitment to fix the issue”.
However, expanding the gates’ opening hours hits hauliers’ margins, as drivers have to be paid overtime for evening and weekend work.
Mr Huck also said typical turnaround times remained “well below” 1.5 hours, and noted that while heightened demand had meant it was not always able to accommodate every peak-time vehicle booking slot (VBS) request, slots were very much available.
He claimed yard density was “dropping like a stone” and a fix would be imminent.
“We cannot predict what the surge in demand will be like, going forward, but our operating team is fully focused on ensuring normal service – the service level we pride ourselves on and are known for – resumes,” added Mr Huck. “If we can solve this in a matter of days, fantastic, but what I can definitely say it will be solved as quickly as possible.”
However, for some hauliers, the past six months have left them questioning the viability of servicing Liverpool’s container terminal, many noting that even with the 10-15% premium for moving boxes, the associated delays and charges made it redundant.
“We will be moving away from the port and looking to moving different types of cargo as the issues there have not made it economically viable,” one haulier said.
“We won’t rule it [Liverpool] out completely, but it will definitely become a smaller part of our operation, short term. We will monitor the situation, see how things progress and re-evaluate in a few months.
However, he added: “Things work perfectly at Terminal 2; you’re in and out in 30 minutes.”