Felixstowe congestion casts bad omen for upcoming Liverpool strike

Felixstowe, Suffolk, England - April 30, 2022: Container ship being loaded and unloaded at Felixstowe docks suffolk  England.

Congestion at the Port of Felixstowe has soared following the eight-day strike action at the UK port.

Latest data from VesselsValue highlighted that following the late-August walkout due to pay disputes, some container operators were unable to make alternative voyage plans, leading wait times at Felixstowe to climb towards year highs.

Figure 1 shows that average waiting times tripled from 10 hours at the beginning of August to the 30 hour mark.

In the midst of supply chain congestion, in March boxes had to wait up to 40 hours to enter Felixstowe back in March.

Peter Williams, Trade Flow Analyst at VesselsValue notes, however, the current decrease in the waiting time suggests that the fallout from the most recent strike has reached its apex.

“With the accumulation of empty shoreside containers, the time taken for Felixstowe congestion to revert to normality will largely depend on how long it takes the port to process this backlog, something that retailers will be closely monitoring as they prepare for the festive spending period,” he wrote.

Recent waiting times reached similar congestion levels of August 2021, where container carriers such as Maersk skipped the East Anglian port.

Figure 2 shows that, with the exception of Rotterdam, the amount of TEU that has headed to Felixstowe’s neighbouring ports during the strike period has increased compared to the same duration last year.

Williams highlighted that the shift of cargo showed container operators had sufficient flexibility in their schedule to accommodate the eight-day strike. For example, Maersk released an online advisory confirming that four of their vessels were omitting Felixstowe from their schedule altogether, including their ULCV, the 19,000 TEU MSC Sveva that stopped in La Havre and Antwerp before sailing back East.

Figure 2: Container Journeys to Neighbouring Ports, by TEU.

Optimists will hope that because the Felixstowe congestion has been caused by a fixed term event, it will soon return to normal levels.

However, with threats of further and more sustained strikes at Felixstowe, along with the employees at Liverpool’s port confirming industrial action between 19 September and 3 October, “those involved at all levels of the supply chain will continue to plan UK stoppages with caution,” Williams added.

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