felixstowe © Nigel Baker
© Nigel Baker

Felixstowe, the UK’s biggest container port, could face another two months of turmoil following the troubled implementation of a new terminal operating system last month, according to one insider.

The source described the situation as “absolute chaos”, with data still having to be manually input, pushing productivity down to around 50%.

“Working the vessels is the biggest problem,” said the source, adding that ships are having to “cut and run, and not even able to load empties”.

He warned that the port could soon have another problem, with the number of empty containers stranded on the quay growing.

One frustrated haulier told The Loadstar the situation at Felixstowe was “a total lottery”.

“Sometimes it might be fine, other times a nightmare,” he said.

“A driver is told he is at the wrong terminal, goes to the one directed, then gets told he is at the wrong terminal again.”

The end result, said the haulier, was the driver would then finish up in an enormous queue at customer services for a manual correction.

The disruption at Felixstowe has caused several carriers to divert their ships to DP World facilities at London Gateway and Southampton, while others have discharged UK cargo at hub ports on the continent for relay by feeder or main line vessels.

MSC, one of the Hutchison-owned port’s biggest customers, advised yesterday that two more vessels would be diverted to London Gateway and Southampton this week.

It told customers it would “continue to utilise the breadth of our UK port and intermodal network to maintain service levels, and minimise the impact on your bookings”, adding that this would mean selected vessels would be diverted.

The impact from the Felixstowe crisis is not only hitting the supply chain in the UK, but is causing knock-on delays for customers at North European, Scandinavian and Baltic ports, as vessel schedules are seriously disrupted.

One regular shipper reader of The Loadstar responded to our Felixstowe compensation story yesterday complaining that considerable delays were being experienced and gave an example of cargo that was supposed to arrive in Helsingborg on 28 June on the OOCL Japan, now due on 10 July; a direct result of feeders not being able to pick up transhipments.

In fact, feeder operators serving Felixstowe are, if anything, suffering more than their deepsea customers.

One major feeder operator told The Loadstar recently it was experiencing “long waiting times”, adding that the service was “not brilliant before the IT implementation, either”.

Under increasing pressure from customers, and with sources saying the regular port users meetings are becoming “very heated”, the port today issued an update.

It maintains that the volume handled across the quay has increased to some 90% of the average weekly throughput prior to the implementation of the new system.

It did, however, admit that it was continuing to experience “issues in our load cycle, including both ship and train loading”.

In regard to containers leaving the port by rail, it said volumes were down to 77% of the average per week.

Hutchison has now brought in “specialist teams of experts” from its Hong Kong head office in an endeavour to overcome the IT issues.

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