Felixstowe and Southampton operations

March 4, 2019 7:47 pm

Our operations teams continue to work hard to protect our importing and exporting customers from the operational issues that began at both the UK’s primary container ports last July and, though considerably less intense, still continue.

While the ports claim in public statements that performance levels have normalised, the reality is that our teams are having to plan and book collections and deliveries up to two weeks ahead, to account for ongoing operational issues at the ports.

Our experience is that underlying issues are still there and whilst there have been small improvements, performance levels are still poor, evidenced by the fact that normal container volumes have not returned to Felixstowe despite owners Hutchison Ports stating that its terminal operating system (TOS) is now stable.

Felixstowe started experiencing significant productivity problems after the TOS was introduced in June 2018, which resulted in many lines diverting vessels and making schedule changes.

The bulk of diverting vessels moved to Southampton, which does not have the infrastructure to handle so many unexpected vessels and containers, quickly impacting on the number of import containers that can be moved off the quay and out of the terminal.

The over-stretched import operation quickly impacted the number of export containers loaded to vessels, adding to increasingly high over-flow empty stacks, which in turn impede terminal operations and exacerbate the situation further, in a declining perfect-circle.

By the autumn of 2018, empty containers were only one factor that contributed to stack levels, as ‘cut and run’ vessels were not shipping out enough empties and a higher than normal number of empties were returning to the terminal.

This latter problem was partly the result of normal pre-Christmas peak season flows and partly because UK inland depots were full, meaning all empties were being returned to the port without delay.

To make matters worse, the ongoing national shortage of haulage drivers in the UK impacted on deliveries, causing imports to clear the Southampton terminal more slowly than normal, with import dwell times up by 50%.

Stack levels at Southampton are now much lower and many operation have returned to near normal levels in the yard, landside and ship.

In contrast to Felixstowe and Southampton, London Gateway continues to operate normally and has been supporting Southampton’s efforts to clear its empty backlog.

Our SOP’s have been updated to protect our customers:

Full container load (FCL)

  1. All containers pre-cleared with HMRC
  2. Pre-planned haulage and container lift to meet delivery deadlines
  3. Ops team monitor progress in real-time, to pre-empt issues
  4. Options to expedite empty restitution

Less than container load (LCL)

  1. Immediate container transfer to our dedicated freight centres
  2. Devanning and direct delivery within 72 hours, to minimise congestion
  3. Weekly scheduled sailings from 1,000 origins, to support uninterrupted supply chains
  4. Increased use of multi-country/vendor/drop consolidations
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