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Carriers prepare for Liverpool strike

With less than a week until Liverpool workers go out on strike, container lines are still making plans for how to handle customers and cargo

With a lack of comparable nearby facilities, the closure of the UK port is likely to have a severe impact in the region

CONTAINER lines are busy preparing contingency plans for the two-week strike at the UK port of Liverpool from September 19.

While the impact is expected to be less dramatic than the recent strike at Felixstowe, which handles far higher volumes, Liverpool’s location on the UK’s west coast means there are no easy alternative ports.

When Felixstowe shut down, ships were able to switch calls to London Gateway or Southampton, or skip a UK call then feeder cargo across from northern Europe. Liverpool has no nearby comparable facility and calls may well be dropped entirely for the duration of the strike.

Maersk said it was looking into options for securing the imports of cargo destined for Liverpool and exports out of Liverpool via alternative gateways.

“As the situation is dynamic and changes rapidly, we are unable to share more at this stage, but we remain in close contact with our customers with whom we are discussing specific options directly,” a spokesperson told Lloyd’s List.

For services such as Maersk’s TA4 service between northern Europe and the US east coast, which makes a call enroute at Liverpool, skipping the port entirely during the period of the strike would be a likely outcome.

CMA CGM said it was “continuing to develop and confirm contingency plans” for the period of the strike, but it has yet to publish details.

“Thanks to our existing extensive vessel and intermodal network, we are in a position to provide our customers with viable alternative solutions during this period including door-to-door deliveries,” it said in a customer advisory.

But Atlantic specialist Atlantic Container Line, which has its sole UK port call at Liverpool, said it had no plans to call at another UK port if the strike goes ahead as planned.

“We shall simply be forced to carry more Continental and Scandinavian cargo because we will be prevented from carrying UK cargo,” ACL chief executive Andy Abbott told Lloyd’s List.

Mr Abbott warned that the strike would be disastrous for Liverpool.

“ACL has been Liverpool’s most loyal carrier for 50-plus years and we hope that the negotiating parties will remember that,” he said. “All the customers that we have collectively gained for Liverpool over many years will seek out another gateway if a strike takes place. Supply chains will be seriously disrupted and all of us will lose. Some importers and exporters will return to Liverpool after the strike is over and some won’t. The longer a strike goes on, the more customers will be permanently lost.”

He warned that rolling strikes following the initial shutdown could have an even more dramatic effect.

“A strike every second week is just as bad as a full-time strike,” he said. “This is because the current congestion on the North American east coast is causing unforeseen delays on many voyages that can easily push the ship beyond the ‘no-strike window’ into the ‘strike week’. So the carrier cannot risk having UK cargo on board that he may not be able to discharge.”

Mediterranean Shipping Co will be another company closely watching the events playing out in Liverpool as it is not only a customer there, but through its Terminal Investments Ltd division, owns a 50% stake in the Liverpool 2 terminal. It hass yet to publish any advice to customers regarding the strike and did not respond to Lloyd’s List’s request for information.

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