British Ports Struggle With Backlog

December 22, 2020

In the run-up to Brexit, British ports are struggling to cope and the resulting bottleneck is causing shortages for multiple industries. The new variant in COVID 19 has made matters worse, with many countries closing their borders to the UK.


The construction industry has reported shortages on various crucial supplies, from lumber and nails to power tools and tiles, while the retail industry faces a difficult Christmas period as they struggle to get essential products, such as toys and white goods, through busy ports.

Due to the need to replenish stocks after lockdown and the looming end of the Brexit transition period causing stockpiling, ports across the UK are facing an unprecedented rise in demand.

At the same time, their processing has slowed because of coronavirus restrictions.

The congestion is worst at the UK’s biggest container ship port, Felixstowe, but other ports such as Southampton and London Gateway are also feeling the strain, with up to 30% more business reported in September.

Processes such as unloading are reportedly taking up to four times longer than usual, and the impact is being felt across several industries.

Volatile Demand

The congestion at Felixstowe is so bad that it has encouraged ships to “cut and run” – dumping cargo at other international ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, skipping the UK entirely, or only partially unloading.

There are suggestions that some carriers are considering avoiding the UK until February.

The Director General of the British International Freight Association, Robert Keen, explained that the pandemic had caused the shipping industry to swing wildly from one extreme to another, going through very quiet periods to maximum capacity.

This disrupted the rhythm the shipping sector relies on, especially the “return flow of empty containers“, causing congestion.

Such delays are pushing up shipping prices, and this is filtering through to the consumer.

The concern is that this difficult situation may be further exacerbated when the Brexit transition period ends on the first of January, and industries could additionally have to deal with import tariffs on products from the EU as well.

Felixstowe Port said they were working hard to “maintain vital supply chains” and that they expected the backlog to be cleared by Christmas.