Short-sea European services and container ports across the UK have enough capacity to handle over 20% of Dover’s trailer volumes, avoiding post-Brexit congestion at the ferry port and potentially slashing costs by up to 50%…….but is it that simple……..

According to new research from the shipping analysts, Drewry, 250,000 of the 2.5m trailers that cross the Channel every year could, instead, be moved in containers on short-sea services and handled at UK box terminals across the country.

At first glance, short-sea appears to be the perfect way to save a lot of money and avoid any post-Brexit channel delays, but there are very significant caveats.

While cost-savings may be significant on some routes, the transit time increases may be just as significant, with short-sea transit time five times that of road. And short-sea service ports are excluded from HMRC’s transitional simplified procedure (TSP) regime, which is reserved for the channel ports and Eurotunnel.

There is a surplus of port capability, with 6.9m teu of capacity across the country’s container terminals not currently utilized, over a wide geographical range, which means there is ample capacity to cover Dover’s overflow.

There are currently 23 weekly box services between the UK and North Europe, 15 of which are feeder services. Assuming a 20% shift from Dover, demand would increase by around 4,800 teu a week each way, but this raises a signficant issue………

Merchant haulage is unable to cope with current container volumes, which means that without additonal drivers, more equipment and great national coverage, there is no way that an additional 4,800 teu a week could be taken onto the road. And the situation could deteriorate even further if the threatened DB Cargo strike materializes. (See our strike report.)

Existing deep-sea services also offer a solution. For example, on the Asia-North Europe trade, a service calling first at Rotterdam could unload European imports, load exports to Asia and to the UK, calling at a UK port, to discharge imports from Asia AND Europe and continue to Asia.