The boss of a global shipping agent has told shoppers to plan ahead for Christmas because of UK ports delays.
According to Peter Wilson of Cory Brothers, people should order items “in a timely fashion” to ensure they arrive on time.
He predicted that store shelves would remain stocked, but there would be less variety.
Meanwhile, Felixstowe, the UK’s largest commercial port, said shipping container congestion had eased in recent days after ships were diverted from the port due to bottlenecks.
Due to a shortage of HGV lorry drivers, the Port of Felixstowe, which handles 36% of the UK’s freight container traffic, told the BBC that it currently has 50,000 containers waiting to be collected.
“It is not the port of Felixstowe that is affecting the supply chain; it is the supply chain that is affecting the port of Felixstowe,” it said, adding that the issues are “similar at all major UK ports.”
The issues arise during the busiest time of year for retailers, when most goods are imported from Asia to sell during the Christmas season.
To avoid delays, Danish shipping giant Maersk was forced to divert some of its larger ships to ports in Holland and Belgium Dutch. Smaller ships then transport the goods to the United Kingdom.
According to Steve Parks, director of Seaport Freight, which handles food shipments from abroad as well as other goods, this can add two to three weeks to the transit of goods from Rotterdam to Felixstowe.
“As a result, items such as coconut milk, frozen fish, and carpets are being delayed from China.”
Due to a shortage of HGV lorry drivers in the UK, shipment containers are being offloaded but left stacked on the quayside awaiting collection. Due to a lack of drivers, there is also a delay in returning empty containers for re-use, resulting in delays in getting goods to stores.
While Mr Parks stated that Britain’s shortage of HGV drivers is “largely” to blame for the port’s congestion, other countries, including the United States and China, are also experiencing issues.
“This is without a doubt the worst period I have ever known,” he said. “We are unable to find space on ships departing from the Far East.
“We’ve had to wait weeks for a booking on a vessel out of Shanghai, which has had a significant impact on clients.”
The port of Rotterdam has been busy in recent weeks, according to a spokesman, but “it’s more to do with Covid than anything else because of the balance of empty and full containers being in the wrong place.”
The pandemic has also been blamed for bottlenecks at US ports. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden will meet with major US retailers as well as port executives to discuss the issues.
The Association of British Ports, which operates 21 ports in the United Kingdom, including Southampton and Hull, stated that it is “aware of the challenges that some UK ports are facing.”
It did, however, state that its ports are currently “operational without any delays or disruptions to services.”
Mr Wilson of Cory Bros. stated: “I can confidently state that the supply chain will not fail and that goods will remain on store shelves until Christmas.
“There may not be that absolute choice we’re all accustomed to,” he said on the BBC’s Today programme.
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Mr Wilson added that there will be “considerable strain” on the UK’s supply chain this Christmas and urged shoppers to “be sensible, think ahead, plan appropriately” to get items such as toys in time for Christmas.
However, according to Tom Holder of the British Retail Consortium, while port congestion and driver shortages will cause “some disruption this Christmas,” the impact on shoppers should be minimal.
The British Independent Retailers Association’s chief executive, Andrew Goodacre, stated that there is “no need to panic buy,” but advised customers to begin their normal shopping process earlier.
“If you see something you like, now is the time to buy because retailers have most of their Christmas stock, but we can’t guarantee we’ll have enough of everything in the coming weeks.”
“It’s difficult for small retailers because they don’t have the cash to stockpile,” he explained.
According to industry estimates, there is a 100,000-driver shortage. Several factors have contributed to this, including European drivers who returned home during the pandemic, Brexit, and a backlog of HGV driver tests.
According to the UK Ports Association trade group, most UK ports are operating normally, but a driver shortage is having an impact.
“As a result, some freight is not being collected as quickly as it would normally be.” The problem affects all types of ports, not just container terminals.
“It has resulted in some additional delays for a variety of ports, and terminal operations are working with their customers to get these goods out of their ports in order to avoid further congestion,” the statement said.
The government recently drafted military personnel to assist with driver shortages and fuel delivery. Foreign drivers have also been granted emergency temporary visas.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said that just 127 HGV drivers had applied for the short-term visas.
Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden told the BBC that the government was increasing the number of people having tests and that he expected the number to rise as Christmas approached.
When asked about potential Christmas supply shortages, he told Sky News, “The situation is improving, and I’m confident that people will be able to get their toys for Christmas.”
Some people buy for Christmas early, such as my wife, while others wait until the last minute. I would advise you to continue shopping as usual.”