The UK’s most important container ports continue to struggle with the vast volumes they are processing and with unclaimed imports building up, because of the HGV Driver crisis container stacks are reaching crisis levels.

Container volumes led, first Felixstowe and now London Gateway, to bar selected lines from the restitution of empty boxes. Equipment that is urgently needed back in Asia.

The acute HGV driver shortage in the UK has extended container dwell times significantly in past weeks, with equipment overflows threatening ports operations and putting them in danger of grinding to a complete halt.

On Wednesday, Felixstowe suspended Evergreen, Maersk and CMA CGM empty returns, with London Gateway placing embargoes on Hapag Lloyd and Maersk empty container restitution on Thursday.

It is possible that other carriers may be restricted by the ports, but there is no indication as yet that there will be a blanket ban on all empty equipment, or export deliveries.

At the moment we are facing additional time and costs to divert the return of empty boxes to alternative depots and the fear is the situation may deteriorate further, particularly if blanket bans are imposed, or other ports follow suit.

The lack of HGV drivers is probably the biggest supply chain challenge, contributing directly to problems with container retrieval and delivery, leading to unavoidable storage, detention and demurrage issues, which have been exacerbated this week by Evergreen reducing their free time to 5 days.

Our transport team are working flat-out to protect our customers, but the lines are temporarily redirecting empties around the country, with drop-off locations including Tilbury, Liverpool, Teesport and the port of Tyne

Drop-off locations are “subject to change” at any time and are often geographically undesirable. We are in constant contact with the lines restitution teams to try and mitigate any impact on our customers, but some additional costs will be unavoidable.

Evergreen said it would contribute to the extra costs by waiving drop-off charges at new locations, but additional wasted journey and haulage charges will also be incurred.

With China’s Golden Week coming to an end, we are expecting to see pent-up demand quickly filling ships, that would put our ports to the test, even if they were fully operational.

But with the high volumes of empty containers at the ports, our fear is that carriers are now considering skipping UK port calls until the import backlog eases, in the hope of avoiding further congestion and port disruption.

We are monitoring this fast-moving situation closely and will keep you informed of important developments.

In the meantime, should one of your containers be affected by any of the issues outlined, we will be in touch with you directly.