Congestion at Port of Felixstowe sees major shippers – including Maersk – reroute ships to avoid UK

Tue 12 Oct 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Felixstowe port

The supply chain crisis gripping the UK risks deepening further after it emerged that the UK’s largest container port – Felixstowe – is considering turning vessels away due to congestion issues.

The average shipping container arriving at Felixstowe is now spending more than nine days in-situ before it is being collected – in part due to the shortage of HGV drivers to collect them.

This is double the average 'dwell time' that import containers spent in the port in 2020 according to the Times.

Felixstowe handles approximately 40% of all the containers which are sent to and from the UK.

Maersk skips UK

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, announced it was already diverting vessels away from the UK because there is virtually no spare capacity to unload.

Speaking to the FT, Lars Mikael Jensen, head of global ocean network at Maersk, said, “We had to stop operations on a ship because there was nowhere to discharge the containers.”

“Felixstowe is amongst the top two or three worst-hit terminals globally,” he said. “We are having to deviate some of the bigger ships away from Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for the cargo.”


Although managers at Felixstowe claim it has more space for inbound ships than it did in July, last week it temporarily imposed restrictions on empty containers from Maersk and Evergreen.

Commentators believe a swift solution is unlikely because retailers are now stockpiling goods ahead of the Christmas shopping season.

Alex Veitch, deputy director, public policy at Logistics UK, told ITV News: “The current issues being experienced at Felixstowe port are partly due to the HGV driver shortage. Some are struggling to source drivers to pick up and deliver containers, which is causing a backlog in the port which prevents new loads from being landed."

In a statement, the port said: “The pre-Christmas peak, combined with haulage shortages, congested inland terminals, poor vessel schedule reliability and the pandemic, has resulted in a build-up of containers at the port.”


In addition to HGV drivers, there are shortages of staff at the port itself, affecting efforts to unload and reload ships.

ITV quoted a spokesperson from impacted retailer, IKEA, who said: “With Felixstowe nearing capacity, we have faced some challenges in returning containers to the port.”


Data suggests that despite the fact Felixstowe is handling similar import volumes as it was in 2019, it is now importing more containers that it is managing to transport out by rail and road.

A port spokesperson added: “The vast majority of import containers are cleared for collection within minutes of arriving and there are over a thousand unused haulier bookings most days.

“Empty container levels remain high as import containers are returned and we are asking shipping lines to remove them as quickly as possible,” they added.