Mega-vessel impact as Felixstowe strike could rock UK supply chains

Aerial photo from a drone looking over to Felixstowe from Harwich with Tradewind Voyages' SV Golden Horizon sailing cruise ship in front.

Ultra Large Container Vessel (ULCV) services could be impacted by upcoming strike action at the UK’s largest container port.

Port workers at Felixstowe are set to strike for eight days from 21 August until 29 August, after rejecting the latest pay offer from Port Operator Hutchinson Ports.

Felixstowe is one of the UK’s top container ports and a critical hub in the region’s logistics network.

“Any disruption will be a key risk factor in near term planning decisions of supply chain managers everywhere, from Wick to Woolacombe,” Vivek Srivastava, Senior Trade Flow Analyst at VesselsValue commented.

Felixstowe has handled 713 Containerships in the last 12 months, behind only London Gateway and Southampton.

However, the port has berthed a greater proportion of the larger ship types than either of those two.

This includes 175 of the very largest Containerships, ULCVs, compared to Southampton’s 80 and London Gateway’s 40.

Following a recent spell of congestion at Felixstowe, major lines Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) diverted their AE7 service, which originates in Shanghai and calls at Yantian and Columbo on the way (among others), to nearby Wilhelmshaven in Germany.

However, depending on ship type, Srivastava writes, other UK ports may also be considered.

When Maersk and MSC took the decision in October 2021, average waiting times for Containerships at Felixstowe peaked at 28 hours, compared to a five year average of 15 hours for the time of year.

“Waiting times climbed as high as 40 hours earlier this year in March, but they have since reduced and are well within normal bounds,” the senior analyst added.

Waiting times are currently around 10 hours, compared to 21 hours this time last year and a five year average of 8 hours.

Srivastava outlined that average waiting times at three hours at Southampton, “almost nothing” at London Gateway, and six hours at Wilhelmshaven – which itself had a strike earlier this summer.

He added: “Logistics planners and supply chain managers will be keen to monitor how the situation at Felixstowe develops.”

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