Heavy congestion of containers at Liverpool Port on IT outage, understaffing

The Port of Liverpool is undergoing a congestion of shipping containers, with ships suffering delays arriving and exiting the port due to understaffing, an IT outage and high density of stock, sources told S&P Global Platts June 17.

Containers have been delayed for several hours, with a lack of stevedores on site to aid in discharge of goods and hauliers struggling to book entry into the port amid lags in cargo flow.

“It is shockingly bad, they don’t have enough manpower at the port,” a European coils trader complained. “Painful delays, these containers need to be cleared within seven days and it’s getting expensive. The lack of haulage and drivers is a separate thing, but even if you have a lorry, you’re waiting hours.”

Haulier jobs normally lasting a few hours were now taking up a better part of the day, sources said, with the availability of slots limited and labor costs increasing due to waiting times.

“They’re taking ages to unload – they have taken on too many vessels,” the same trader said. “You must collect your container from the dock, unload and return within the agreed period of time. If you don’t give it back to them in this one-week period, it’s a penal cost.”

The delays were not segregated to flat steel, with difficulties in sourcing containers also a problem for some scrap yards.

“I’ve heard Liverpool is a nightmare, especially for hauliers – it’s not so much an issue for scrap traders as we tend to get an all-in freight rate,” a UK scrap trader said. “But I’ve heard that for some scrap yards, it’s difficult to source containers due to the backlog in Liverpool.”

The Port of Liverpool saw increasing stocks among carriers amid the decline of the Felixstowe Port in Suffolk, UK, last year.

In November, the Felixstowe port — UK’s busiest container port — came under extreme pressure in the lead-up to Christmas, with the Brexit decision looming. Significant backlogs caused by a container shortage due to surging Asian demand resulted in the reallocation of some ships to Rotterdam.

The owner, Hutchison Ports, blamed pre-Brexit stockpiling and the coronavirus pandemic for the backlogs, with delays expected to continue into 2021.

“Peel Ports [Liverpool port operator] tried hard to make Liverpool a solid destination after Felixstowe collapsed last year. So many more ships calling,” a UK-based container source said.

“Due to longer wait times onshore for hauliers, they are refusing to go, causing further pile-ups. Costs are increasing for detention charges,” the same source said.

In a company statement, Peel Ports said the delays were a result of several factors impacting the Terminal 1 turnaround times, including an IT outage and high stock density.

A Peel Ports spokesperson confirmed delays of up to 2.5 hours, with normal discharge turnaround times usually between 1-2 hours.

“We understand that any issues with the smooth running of the port are frustrating for customers and we recognise an efficient haulier interchange is critical to the port’s and haulier’s offer,” David Huck, the Managing Director of Group Ports said.

“We have spent much of this week working through the backlog caused by last week’s delays and whilst some issues may remain into next week, we hope that service levels will return to the high standards usually offered by the Port of Liverpool.”

According to the statement, the Group had employed 150 people by the end of 2020, with extended weekend opening hours already implemented.

— Amanda Flint, George Griffiths, Viral Shah