Brexit and Covid-19 together force new shipping habits – some expected, others surprising

Wed 4 Nov 2020
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

covid shipping

The combination of Brexit and Covid-19 has meant shippers have begun reverting to sending cargo unaccompanied to an extent last seen in 1992, reports Lloyd Loading List

Speaking on a webinar organised by the site, a senior industry source said carriers are “re-assessing their transport plans and choosing different ports, different shipping methods and switching transport modes in order to preserve supply chains”.

Alternatives to Dover

This means carriers are also moving away from directing traffic through the Dover Strait, which handles around 75% of UK trade with continental Europe, compared with less than 50% prior to the Maastricht Treaty (which established the European Union) being signed in 1992.

Stephen Carr, commercial director for Peel Ports, said Covid-19 has “had an impact on the availability of haulage and hauliers on long-distance routes, particularly on the cargo that comes out of Iberia into the UK”.

Shippers, who were less time sensitive, are reverting back to unitised loads, longer-distance maritime legs and unaccompanied loads, he added.

Training problems

The new ‘Lockdown 2’ measures around Covid-19 are also stymying industry efforts to train and prepare staff for new trade rules and goods movement systems post-transition. A customs clearance operator has also told Loadstar that training, which would normally have taken place in meeting rooms at a local hotel had to be rearranged, as the hotel was due to close.

“As an emergency measure, we have ordered two Portakabins, which we can site in our lorry park, to try and keep staff in smaller bubbles, just in case.”

… and congestion is a global issue 

Loadstar also reports that shippers around the world are facing “huge supply challenges” as a shortage of port workers and containers is causing congestion. 

One carrier source said: “There are so many pinch points building now and they will only get worse before the holiday season and may well run until Chinese New Year [in February],” he warned.


The New Zealand port of Auckland is the latest container hub to impose a port congestion surcharge. From 9 November, a $300 per teu congestion surcharge will apply on all imports from Europe, Turkey and Israel, and imports from China, Japan and South-east Asia.

Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd is the first transpacific line to suspend bookings of agricultural products from North America in order to reposition equipment to the more lucrative Asian export market. Director of global container logistics, Nico Hecker said container availability and utilisation across its network is coming under “enormous and unprecedented pressure”.

The UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, is also taking action on its congestion problems. It has reverted to refusing to accept empty containers, in a continuing effort to clear its backlog.