Drewry study finds lots of capacity at U.K. ports and feeder ships that could help out if the Port of Dover becomes jammed.
As U.K. politicians try to hammer out some sort of compromise to prevent a “hard Brexit” that might disrupt trade between their country and the rest of Europe, the maritime consultants Drewry have published a white paper that suggests short-sea container services could alleviate congestion should truck traffic moving cargo through the Port of Dover become snarled.
The U.K. had been scheduled to leave the European Union on April 12, following the House of Common’s failure last week to an exit deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn met earlier this week to try and work out a compromise. Late Wednesday Parliament approved a bill by a one-vote majority that ruled out a no-deal Brexit by forcing the government to seek an extension from the EU if a plan cannot be reached by April 12.
The BBC predicted “passage of the bill will enrage hard-line Brexiteers in the Conservative Party and sets Britain on course for a long Brexit extension if May cannot salvage her withdrawal agreement in the coming days.”
On departure from the EU, the U.K.’s roll-on and roll-off ports and the Channel Tunnel “may have reduced throughput capacity if new customs procedures do not permit the current free flow of cargo,” Drewry said.
It said an earlier study validated by the Port of Dover concluded that around 500,000 of the 2.5 million truck trailers going via Dover could possibly shift to another mode of transport. This is equivalent to around 10,000 TEUs per week in each direction, said Drewry.
“In this second phase of our short-sea analysis we have turned our attention to alternative capacity and congestion mitigation,” said Tim Power, head of Drewry Maritime Advisors. “We understood from the findings of our initial assessment that a proportion of trailer-based freight transiting Dover could be suitable for transportation and rerouting by container. We wanted to see whether and how this could be handled.
“It became clear that container shipping line services not only have the capacity, options and flexibility to handle additional container volumes in the event of disruption to cross-channel freight services but crucially, container terminals in the U.K. have the capacity to meet the additional throughput demands,” said Power.
Drewry said, “There are four ways that container shipping lines could cater for this demand: making use of spare capacity on existing services; increasing frequency on existing services; increasing vessel sizes on existing services; launching new services.”
It said, “The extra demand would not require a significant expansion in capacity” as 11 container ports collectively have an additional annual capacity of 5.9 million TEUs. Those ports are Bristol, Felixstowe, Grimsby/Immingham, Hull, Liverpool, London Gateway, Thamesport, Portsmouth, Southhampton, Teesport and Tilbury.
While most of that capacity is at ports in southeast England close to Dover, the report noted there are also ports in the north of England such as Hull, Grimsby/Immingham, Teesport and Liverpool with spare capacity.
“This is sufficient to handle this additional volume and provides wide geographical coverage,” the report added.
In addition, Drewry said, “There are sufficient container vessels in the market today — feeder-size vessels represent over half of the total fleet — and there is a very liquid charter market.”
As for containers that would be needed to move those goods, Drewry noted North Europe, in general, imports more full containers than it exports and said, “Surplus containers on the continent could be used for exports to the U.K. After unpacking, these containers could be moved to demand locations in Asia on deep-sea services.”