The UK’s largest container shipping gateway has been brought to a standstill after workers at the port of Felixstowe began an eight-day strike Sunday, forcing carriers to divert vessels to already congested hubs in Northern Europe.
It is the latest in a wave of industrial action sweeping the transportation and logistics sectors in Europe as workers demand inflation-busting pay increases in a deepening cost-of-living crisis in the region. Felixstowe handles about 4 million TEU annually, approximately half the UK’s total.
More than 1,900 members of union Unite, which include crane drivers, tugboat operators, and stevedores, are striking in a pay dispute with the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, operated by Hutchison Ports UK, which is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Holdings.
But other losers in the strike will be UK cargo owners as carriers divert inbound shipments to ports in Northern Europe that are already struggling to handle persistent congestion amid poor carrier schedule reliability and labor shortages.
Martin Gaard Christiansen, CCO for global feeders and CEO for Europe at the Unifeeder Group, said the Felixstowe strike will add further short-term pain to the regional supply chain.
The challenge of moving UK import containers from North Europe ports to their destination was also highlighted by Alan Murphy, CEO of Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis. Writing in his Sunday Spotlight newsletter, Murphy noted that the impact will be felt on the supply chains in the UK for all types of goods.
Lars Jensen, founder and CEO of Vespucci Maritime and a JOC analyst, wrote in a LinkedIn post Sunday that Felixstowe’s throughput of 4 million TEU a year translates to approximately 11,000 TEU per day.
Carriers cut Felixstowe calls
The 2M Alliance of Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Co. and the Ocean Alliance of CMA CGM, Cosco Shipping, and Evergreen have announced adjustments to their Felixstowe schedules as a result of the strike.
Two 2M vessels will omit Felixstowe calls with UK-bound cargo due to be offloaded in Le Havre over the weekend and Antwerp-Bruges on Monday where it will remain until the strike has ended. A third vessel will be diverted to London Gateway. A further 12 vessels operated by 2M had their arrival times brought forward or delayed until after the strike.
Cosco Shipping’s CSCL Brisbane and YM Evolution, both operating on the North Europe-East Med Express service, will skip Felixstowe, while Evergreen’s Ever Alp will anchor until terminal operations resume.
Maersk warned that even when the Felixstowe strike ends on Aug. 28, the heavily disrupted vessel schedules will continue to have an impact on port operations through mid-September.
Hapag-Lloyd has only one service calling at Felixstowe that is scheduled for the end of August and is so far unaffected by the strike, but the carrier was watching “how the situation will develop,” a spokesperson said.
Labor tension elsewhere
While the impact of the Felixstowe strike is confined largely to UK cargo owners, a potential strike across major German ports such as Hamburg, Bremerhaven, and Wilhelmshaven would have a far wider impact on the regional supply chain.
Talks to avert strike action in Germany are under way with a tenth round of wage negotiations starting in Bremen Monday between the Central Association of German Seaport Companies (ZDS) and Germany union ver.di.
The parties are trying to resolve a long-running wage dispute that saw a series of 24-hour “warning strikes” by ver.di in June followed by a 48-hour strike in July, shutting down container terminals in Hamburg, Bremerhaven, and Wilhelmshaven.
Visibility provider project44 noted in its latest monthly ocean report that European ports have battled labor issues, leading to long vessel queues. The average cargo lead time for the trans-Atlantic had climbed to 27 days in July, close to its all-time high of 29 days at the start of the year, project44 said.
Another port about to face industrial action is Liverpool, where workers at Peel Ports’ Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) last week voted overwhelmingly to strike in a Unite ballot, although no strike dates have been announced.