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Eastern European volumes and Brexit are said to be behind the recent success of London Medway, with the Peel Ports’ operated gateway experiencing a 34% bounce in a fortnight.
The significant increase comes from DFDS’s unaccompanied freight service linking France and Medway – with vessels carrying more than 200 containers in some instances – and it follows a 30% uptick between April and June.
Several sources said the performance was “undoubtedly” driven by demand from Eastern Europe, despite truck driver reluctance to service the UK.
One brokerage manager told The Loadstar: “The Medway route is one guys in Eastern Europe like, particularly when it’s allied with the unaccompanied rail movements – think movements from Turkey through Europe and even potentially from north-east Italy.
“For imports not requiring T1 transit documentation, Medway operates smoothly. But it does not have a permanent UK Border Force fixture, so closing of T forms can be a little slower.”
Adding to the port’s success has been the impact of Brexit on European drivers, one transport manager and forwarder told The Loadstar many EU drivers no longer wished to service routes into the UK.
They said this could be because of trouble around Calais and queues into Channel ports, and because they must travel with passports rather than ID cards.
“There is driver reluctance, sure but August is the holiday season in Europe and that sees demand dry up, so you are seeing a lot more Europe-based truckers going on holiday, which means availability is low,” the forwarder added.
“Some of our larger hauliers aren’t taking receipt of trailers because they shut in the summer – one is operating a skeleton crew, taking just one trailer a day compared with 25 normally.”
This, they added, makes a gateway like Medway even more appealing if they can get cargo through without having to worry about driver availability. But the potential to expand is dependent on the addition of extra ferry services, and that does not seem imminent.
A spokesperson for Peel Ports told The Loadstar the prospect of DFDS adding more sailings was a question for the carrier, but noted that the success of the route stimulates interest.
“The service itself is relatively new, started June 2021, and hence, volumes were starting to increase as the service became more established, but obviously the issues in Dover have helped this volume grow,” the spokesperson added. “We see a shift to unaccompanied freight due to changing supply chain trends and ongoing challenges like Brexit, the pandemic, etc.
“We’ve long said we’ve become dangerously reliant on Dover and the Channel Tunnel, with 75% of the trailer freight market between north-west Europe and Britain passing through this pinch-point.”
However, a source working in and around ports said Peel’s suggestion that Medway’s growth stemmed from troubles at Dover was unlikely, adding: “Dover is ten times bigger than other ports in the UK and people seem to forget that its sheer scale makes it the standout performer; so even at its worst, Dover is easy and its scale puts it far above what Medway can offer.
“This is not to knock Medway, those figures are great for it, but the port it aims to challenge Dover, it needs to be reporting 500% more growth.”