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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Shipping snaps under weight of supply chain problems

As queues of giant shipping containers snake out of the UK’s busiest port, waiting to deliver goods carried across the world, crews onboard say it is the worst disruption they have ever seen.

One British navigator who recently returned from Asia says his crew were told to avoid Felixstowe, which handles 36pc of the country’s containerised freight, where they were due to dock. 

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” he says. After delays of a fortnight in Asia, they wanted to steer clear of further congestion. 

His vessel is just one of many that have been diverted from the UK in recent weeks as logistics firms battle to clear backlogs at ports. On Tuesday, Denmark’s Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping firm, said it had started rerouting big ships away from the UK, warning there is “nowhere to discharge the containers”.

Disruptions have caused widespread delays across industries from grocers to multinationals such as Ikea and Nestle.

Warnings have been sounded that it could lead to less choice of gifts and festive foods come Christmas, as well as potentially higher prices as a plethora of businesses shift higher import costs onto consumers. 

“This would normally be the busiest time of year anyway because of the Christmas rush,” says Jeremy Ayling, 61, who has sailed on large container ships for more than 40 years.

He was caught up in the Evergiven chaos earlier this year, when the vast vessel ran aground in the Suez Canal, but says current disruption is easily the worst he has seen. “All these problems with lorry drivers, Brexit and Covid are just compounding the problem.” 

Despite the focus on huge containers floating off the coast of huge ports from San Francisco to Felixstowe and Shanghai, shipping insiders say Britain’s chaos is largely down to problems ashore, where lorry companies are struggling to whisk away containers from ports quickly enough.

The backlog means containers are sitting at ports for longer, leaving less space for newly arrived cargo. 

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