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Strike impacts will be felt beyond Felixstowe

Congestion in Europe set to worsen on back of industrial action

UK supply chains are already reporting disruptions from the strike at Felixstowe. With more disputes on the cards, the headaches are likely to spread

SUPPLY chains across Europe can expect further disruptions as industrial action such as that taking place this week in Felixstowe continue.

“Even minor interruptions to port operations can have a major impact on container line network efficiency and cause a domino effect up and down supply chains,” said Container xChange chief executive Christian Roeloffs. “Strikes at European ports this year have already been highly damaging to logistics operations, manufacturers, and industry at large. We expect further industrial action to be just as harmful.”

Container lines have already started diverting cargo from Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container gateway, and the strike is likely to compound logistics challenges at both the port and in the wider UK market.

This was also starting to show up in Europe as well, according to analysis by Linerlytica.

“European port congestion picked up over the past week, especially in Rotterdam where the number of vessels waiting at anchorage is rising very quickly, while yard capacity utilisation has reached critical levels,” it said. “Barge traffic has been affected by low water on the Rhine as well as diversions from UK to avoid the Felixstowe port strike.”

But there was some benefit for ports further “downstream”, with German ports seeing a slight reduction in vessel waiting times, Linerlytica said.

“There was no material change in the number of ships waiting at UK ports, with carriers largely able to plan around the eight-day strike in Felixstowe with most of the ships omitting the Felixstowe call during the strike window,” it said. “The full impact of the UK port strike will only be felt over the coming weeks as cargo diversions from Felixstowe will further strain the capacity at North Continent ports.”

Freight forwarder Zencargo said UK supply chains were already being disrupted by the Felixstowe action.

“Vessel delays are also expected due to limited labour availability to operate the port. Felixstowe is currently not accepting empty equipment back after deliveries, resulting in containers having to be returned elsewhere. This has created unforeseen diversions for drivers and additional costs that are being incurred by importers.”

Mr Roeloffs said that Felixstowe had suffered from an excess of containers for much of the past two years.

“This interruption of operations will add to operational inefficiencies at the terminal and in the hinterland,” he said. “It will also have ramifications for carrier networks on intra-Europe and Asia-Europe services.”

He added that further strikes, such as the planned but yet to be scheduled strike at Liverpool, and in Germany, could lead to added disorder in Europe’s supply chains.

Negotiations between trade union ver.di and the Central Association of Germany Seaport Companies are continuing, but a court-imposed moratorium on industrial action expires on August 26.

“Container lines have reported that in Germany, while the moratorium has been in place, stevedores have been less willing to perform extra shifts or work at weekends,” said Container xChange co-founder Johannes Schlingmeier. “This has made it difficult to clear backlogs after the earlier strikes. What we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic in ports across Europe including Liverpool, Felixstowe and the major German hubs, is terminals struggling to cope with demand and the multiple disruptive events container shipping has faced. Shortages of trucking capacity and drivers have added to logjams.”

Strikes would make it more difficult for ports to untangle the pre-existing strains on logistics and on the hinterland intermodal networks on which they relied, he added.

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