Will shipping container backlog cause delays?

Table of Contents What’s causing it?What does the industry say?What could this mean for Christmas?What

Thousands of shipping containers at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, as shipping giant Maersk has said it is diverting vessels away from UK ports. (Getty)

Britain is far from short of a crisis to deal with at the moment.

A shortage of HGV drivers has caused chaos to supply chains, with supermarkets shelves left bare and fears that Christmas could be impacted for millions of families.

Following reports of potential shortages around, among other things, pigs in blankets and turkeys, now shoppers have been warned that Christmas presents could get caught up in the mess.

Shipping containers are seen in the Port of Felixstowe, east of London on March 4, 2021. - Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced in his annual budget on March 3, 2021, that the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich were to be locations for new 'Freeports'. (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Shipping containers are seen in the Port of Felixstowe, where cargo has built up. (Getty/file pic)

What’s causing it?

With the pandemic forcing the government to implement port restrictions in an attempt to stop any further spread of coronavirus, a backlog at UK ports has been building up over the past 18 months.

A DVLA backlog in HGV driver tests as a result of lockdown also meant fewer people were qualifying.

Brexit has also played a part in the lorry driver shortages. European HGV drivers are thought to have left due to uncertainty over post-Brexit visa rules.

A surge in imports in the run-up to Christmas is expected to add to the delays as supplies build up – but are not delivered away from ports.

Watch: Prime Minister indicates shortages could continue until Christmas

What does the industry say?

Shipping giant Maersk has said it is diverting vessels away from UK ports because of a build-up of cargo.

It has already started rerouting its container ships away from Felixstowe, the UK’s largest commercial port, to unload elsewhere in Europe before using smaller vessels to finally get deliveries to the UK, the Financial Times reported.

Lars Mikael Jensen, head of global ocean network at Maersk, said the HGV driver shortage has slowed down the time it takes for containers to be emptied and picked up.

He said Felixstowe “is among the top two or three worst-hit terminals”, adding that the company is diverting bigger ships away.

Pete Wilson, group managing director at Cory Brothers, also said there could be a “potential” shortage of some goods at Christmas.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, he said there were “significant delays on boxes inbound into the UK”.

He added: “I think it’s worth adding this is not just a Felixstowe problem. This is a UK-wide problem. All of the major sea ports, Gateway, Southampton, are seeing the same strain.”

File photo dated 06/04/21 of lorries arriving at the Port of Dover in Kent. UK businesses and consumers have paid 42% more in customs duties on goods since Brexit came into force, new research suggests. Issue date: Monday September 13, 2021.

Lorries arriving at the Port of Dover in Kent earlier this year. (PA)

Toy shop owner Robert Gliddon, the owner of Gliddons Toy Shop in Sidmouth, Devon, has warned consumers to “buy now” to avoid Christmas disappointment – and to “be prepared to pay more”.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said “further disruption may be unavoidable”.

He added: “This comes on the back of a very challenging 18 months for supply chains due to COVID and the disruption to global shipping and transport logistics.

Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, said there is “no congestion” at Dover, adding that people can count on the route to the Kent port functioning as the ferries always keep moving.

Thousands of shipping containers at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, as shipping giant Maersk has said it is diverting vessels away from UK ports to unload elsewhere in Europe because of a build-up of cargo. Picture date: Wednesday October 13, 2021. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

Thousands of shipping containers at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. (Getty)

What could this mean for Christmas?

With a surge in toy-buying in the months leading up to Christmas, shortages are likely to become more acute.

Electrical and homeware goods may be affected as they are shipped in containers from abroad because they are non-perishable and are cheaper to arrive by boat than by plane – meaning they may face being stuck in the container jam.

Felixstowe, where storage capacity has now ran out, normally handles around 36% of Britain’s container imports and exports, much of it toys and furniture.

The containers that were originally meant to arrive at Felixstowe are now being unloaded in other ports, including Rotterdam, Antwerp and Bremerhaven.

In the United Kingdom,

Pigs in blankets may be missing from this year’s Christmas dinners. (Getty)

The traditional Christmas dinner could also look very different this year, with reports of a potential shortage of turkeys and pigs in blankets.

The Times reported earlier this month that the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the industry is short about 15,000 workers, with has forced its members to just focus on keeping supermarkets stocked with basic cuts of meat.

The meat industry has warned that turkeys may be harder to buy for Christmas dinner this year. (Getty)

The meat industry has warned that turkeys may be harder to buy for Christmas dinner this year. (Getty)

Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA said that Christmas turkeys are likely to be from the continent this year due to labour shortages in Britain following Brexit, and added that some foods like pigs in blankets may not be available.

He told Sky News: “We’re not saying there’s going to be desperate shortages, but there certainly won’t be the choices available for British food, that’s for certain.”

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 06: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during the final day of the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, United Kingdom on October 06, 2021. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has vowed to save Christmas in the wake of supply chain problems. (Getty)

What does the government say?

Co-chairman of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden said the cargo situation was improving – and insisted the government was “working through these challenges” amid a build-up of cargo at UK ports.

He told Sky News: “There is clearly a challenging problem, particularly with HGV drivers, not just here, it’s across Europe. Poland, the US, even China has this challenge,”

Asked about potential Christmas shortages, he said: “The situation is improving, I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas. Some people buy very early for Christmas, my wife is quite an early Christmas buyer, others buy later. I would say just buy as you do normally.”

Attempting to calm the petrol crisis, the PM vowed to save Christmas, saying last month: “What we want to do is make sure that we have all the preparations necessary to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in the supply in the petrol stations, but all parts of our supply chain.”

A spokesman for the Department For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that they were “working closely with the pig and processing sectors” in the run up to Christmas.

Watch: HGV driver shortage sees other sectors suffer staff losses