The backlog at the UK’s largest container port is “improving”, so Britons should shop normally for Christmas, a cabinet minister has said, after reports of large vessels bringing goods from Asia being diverted away.
Oliver Dowden, the new Conservative party co-chair, told Sky News that authorities at Felixstowe “have said the situation is improving” at the Suffolk port, which handles about 40% of containers coming in and out of the UK.
Dowden’s comments come after the world’s largest container shipping company, the Danish firm AP Møller-Maersk, called the port one of its biggest global challenges because of a backlog of containers caused by a shortage of HGV drivers.
The problems at Felixstowe, which also became gridlocked in late 2020, come at the start of the busiest period of the year for shipping firms and ports, with retailers importing higher quantities of goods from east Asia to sell during the Christmas trading season.
“There is clearly a challenging problem, particularly with HGV drivers and not just here,” Dowden said.
“It is across Europe, Poland, the US, even China has this challenge. This is why we have been taking steps to address it, whether it is, for example, with training, 5,000 more places for training HGV drivers, making the process more flexible.”
Maersk said congestion at Felixstowe had been building for the past two weeks, meaning it had to dock as many as one in three of its large vessels at continental ports including Rotterdam instead.
The goods are then unloaded and brought to Britain on smaller ships, which do not have to wait as long for a berth at Felixstowe as larger vessels.