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Liverpool recovering from severe port disruption

Liverpool recovering from severe port disruption

Monday, 21 June 2021

Northwest England port acknowledges serious problems in the last two weeks but said it had begun working through the backlog last week and implemented a number of measures it hopes will significantly ease the congestion and delays

The Port of Liverpool is hoping to make significant progress this week towards recovering from a period of severe disruption in the last two weeks that has led to high levels of delays and frustration among cargo customers.

Sources close to the port in northwest England report that there have been a several issues that had “come together to create a perfect storm” for the port, including a large number of vessels and containers arriving, a shortage of empties that had been expected to arrive, and an IT outage. All of these together “drove up stack density to a very high level”, to the point of making the port become inefficient and “unproductive”. That drove “what was a busy port” to a level where services broke down to an “unacceptable” point, sources close to the port acknowledge.

The port said that it had begun working through the backlog last week, implementing a number of measures that it hopes will significantly ease the congestions and delays experienced in the last two weeks. But a port source acknowledged that “it has been a difficult couple of weeks, and services are not where we would want them to be”.

Frustrating for customers

David Huck, group managing director for ports at operator Peel Ports, said: “We understand that any issues with the smooth running of ports are frustrating for customers and that ports and supply chains are under increased pressures following increased demand and the impact of external factors. Whilst we always work incredibly hard to avoid issues, a combination of factors has recently impacted Terminal 1 turn-around times, some of which were beyond our control – including an exceptional IT outage, and unexpected high stack density. 

“We have since provided additional resources to work through the backlog caused by these delays and we are confident that that service levels will return to the high standards usually offered by the Port of Liverpool this week.

“In further response to growth and demand, we are also introducing measures that will strengthen our ongoing capacity. Having undertaken a heavy recruitment programme of 150 employees at the end of 2020, new operators are due to complete their skilled training and extended weekend opening hours have already been introduced.

“As of this month, the Port of Liverpool will be opening its gates on a 24/7 basis right through to Christmas. Making the port more accessible over evenings and weekends allows customers who want to take advantage of the additional capacity, the flexibility to do so.”

Wider UK port issues

UK container ports have been struggling at some level with congestion and disruption since the fourth quarter of last year, initially at Felixstowe but with some of the issues then spreading to other container ports – including Southampton and London Gateway – in some cases because of vessels being diverted away from Felixstowe.

Some believe that Liverpool had taking on too many services as a result of this, although sources at the port say that they had turned down a number of requests for additional vessel where they believed the port capacity was insufficient to handle extra services. One source commented: “What we have continued to experience in the last couple of months is that shipping schedules can change quite rapidly, and because so much of the supply chain is already disrupted, it only takes a small issue for a further disruption to lead to a problem.”

Whereas ports in the south of England – particularly Felixstowe – had experienced disruption late last year and earlier this year, to some extent it was “Liverpool’s turn” to feel the effects of disrupted ocean freight supply chains.

One freight source this week highlighted that UK container ports “are all under new pressure”, although Felixstowe had become “much improved and the most efficient” of the UK deepsea container ports currently. Describing Liverpool as “struggling with new volume; slow and very problematic”, the freight source said Southampton was also “struggling with additional volume” and “slow”, with London Gateway also “slow” and “struggling under so much new volume”.

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