Christmas stock worries mount as port turns away ships
The UK government is attempting to allay fears of Christmas product shortages after container ships were being turned away at a key UK port due to over-capacity.
On Wednesday, minister and Conservative party chairman Oliver Dowden called on consumers to “shop normally” for Christmas and said capacity concerns at Felixstowe, the country’s biggest container port, are “improving”.
The positive message came as politicians were being warned that Britain faces gaps on the shelves at Christmas as shipping containers carrying Christmas stock were diverted from Felixstowe because it had reached its capacity.
Shipping companies are having to direct vessels away from the port after it ran out of storage space. The port, on the Suffolk coast, normally handles about 36% of Britain’s container imports and exports.
Reports said the containers are being unloaded in other ports, including Rotterdam, Antwerp and Bremerhaven, and transferred to smaller ships for transport to Britain, causing delays of up to 10 days.
Fashion retailers will be concerned supplies of partywear/occasionwear could be disrupted in the run up to the important Christmas season, especially as last Christmas’s celebrations were dashed by lockdowns across the period.
The latest supply problem was described yesterday as a “perfect storm” caused by a shortage of lorry drivers to move the containers, restrictions at ports because of Covid, and a surge in imports. One shipping boss told The Times: “I don’t want to sound like a Grinch but there are going to be gaps on shelves this Christmas.”
But Dowden told Sky News that he was “confident” people will be able to buy their Christmas presents, adding that the situation at Felixstowe is “improving” and “I would say just buy as you do normally”.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Pete Wilson, group managing director at global shipping company Cory Brothers, said: “We are seeing significant delays on boxes inbound into the UK.
“I think it’s worth adding this is not just a Felixstowe problem. This is a UK-wide problem. All of the major sea ports, Gateway, Southampton, are seeing the same strain."
He added that supply chain would “not fail” in the UK but “there is a potential nearer to Christmas to see some items maybe not being available on the shelves”.
The Department for Transport also insisted the problem was not “unique to the UK”. A spokesman added: “Ports around the globe are experiencing similar container capacity and supply chain issues.”
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