‘Busy but coping’–UK ports handle global container surge

The UKMajor Ports Group(“UKMPG”), the voice for the UK’s largest port operators including all deep sea container ports, has surveyed its members to find out how they are currently coping with the world-wide surge in shipping container movements.

In short –ports are very busy bu tcoping as they adapt to conditions.Surveying its members on the current position (week commencing 23rdNovember) UKMPG can reveal:

•Container activities of ports are certainly very busy, with some ports seeing 20% more activity than they did last November

•They are however adapting and coping, redeploying resources and utilising extra capacity•Container terminals are working hard and liaising closely with shipping lines and supply chain partners with the peak of containers likely to have passed

•Backlogs are reducing, including in stocks of PPE which have halved in some locations and empty containers awaiting return

•Container facilitiesall around Great Britain which handle container services over shorterdistances are working hard and effectively to keep container trade flowingas local factors such as pre-Brexitstock build play a roleas well as the global situation

•The expectation is the global dynamics will remain strong in the near term.

Commenting on the current position Tim Morris, CEO of UKMPG, said“There’s no doubt that the pandemic-driven events of 2020 have put huge strain on global supply chains. The situation we’re seeing at ports around the world has symptoms here in the UK too. However, the situation on the ground is improving with container terminals having increased resources, ports around the UK playing their partand through intensive work with supply chain partners.

But just as container congestion didn’t occur overnight there are no instant, magic wand solutions. Ports and their supply chain partners will need to continue to work constructively together, demonstrating again the resilience of the logistics sector, to keep up improvement.”COVID-19 has caused unprecedented volatility in the global supply chains on which we all depend.

Whilst some of the impactis direct –e.g. manufacturing and retail activity going into lock down for differing periods around the world –a major influencecomes from underlying changes in consumer behaviour, such as the rise of ecommerce and differentproducts benefiting fromdiscretionary spending.

This volatility has inevitably impacted the shipping patterns that are the main arteries of global trade. Ports all around the world, from Sydney to Los Angles, are experiencing significant congestion in shippingcontainer movements. Demand has surged and there are significant issues at Asian ports causing disruption at source which ripples across the world. This recent trend is on the back of global balances that have built up in the location of shipping containers following disruption to the normal ‘conveyor belt’ of mega-vessels moving between Asia and Europe or America

Local factors in the UK add additional complexity. Businesses are bringing in more stock both to meet Christmas demand but also to beat the end of the UK’s transition period out of the EU. The requirements of large volumes of PPE have played a role. And, inevitably, although the ports themselves have remained highly resilient and remain operational throughout the pandemic there is inevitably an influence.

To watch a short animation on the vital contribution ports make to the UK see: