Liverpool’s container port is “imploding”, with hauliers growing increasingly concerned over the gateway’s viability as they struggle for booking slots.

One independent local haulier said jobs that would normally take two hours were now lasting the better part of a day, while another said the port appeared “understaffed and overworked”, with restricted haulier access leading to major slowdowns in the flow of cargo.

“It is diabolical. I had a vehicle booking slot for 7am, with a tip in Leicester due at midday, but wasn’t out of the port until 12.30,” one haulier told The Loadstar.

“And then, this week we tried to book a slot for Monday only to discover the port had blocked bookings on Monday, forcing us to use off-peak slots on Saturday, resulting in the need to pay our drivers overtime.

“Even then, it took all day to move seven containers using three trucks. I’d say it’s costing us the better part of £1,500 in unnecessary labour costs a week, that is 50% of our profits.”

Liverpool saw its stock rise among carriers and shippers last year amid the crisis that hit Felixstowe, and some hauliers believe its present problems began with the port seeking to attract more services.

Forwarders are also beginning to feel the pinch as increasing numbers of hauliers, unable to get a booking slot, refuse to service Liverpool.

“Lots of hauliers from outside the Liverpool region are simply refusing to go there, because of the poor productivity and increased costs, which leads to us incurring quay rent and detention charges,” one forwarder told The Loadstar.

“The surge in demand exceeded expectations and now real costs are being incurred because of this – the port knows it has mega issues.”

Another haulier said [Liverpool owner] Peel Ports had “bitten off more than it could chew”, by getting more ships arriving than it could handle, and questioned why furloughed staff had not been brought back to work.

Compounding the problem are claims of lack of support from the port for smaller hauliers, one describing Peel’s responses as “aggressive”.

Larger haulage firms, however, appear to be taking their own stance – the country’s largest container haulier, Maritime Transport, told customers new charges for delays at Liverpool would be incurred from close of business today.

It advised all work needed to be pinned, landed and cleared at least 48 hours in advance of delivery day, with anything that is not, handed back immediately.

It added: “We cannot continue to haemorrhage money and have trucks sitting around due to the port’s shocking performance. The port is stack-heavy, understaffed and struggling with VBS availability. Yet it continues to take in additional vessels, and we need our customers to be taking them to task.”

Further charges include demurrage for vehicles waiting more than 90 minutes at the port, a £100 surcharge for Sunday collections, and any container applied for with a VBS is immediately classified as a “live job” and any cancellation from this point would incur a further charge  .

One of the smaller hauliers said: “It is at crisis point now, and I am really not sure why the port has not ground to a halt. But I have never known it to be the case that you have to try and book a slot three days in advance, and even then you may not get it.

“The VBS does not make it any easier, it books at container rather than haulier level, so you cannot substitute one container for another if any issue arises; that’s flawed too. We’re now moving away from container work, which will leave people without cargo.”

UPDATE (17 June):

David Huck, Managing Director – Group Ports said: “We understand that any issues with the smooth running of the port are frustrating for customers and we recognise an efficient haulier interchange is critical to the port’s and haulier’s offer.

“Whilst we always work incredibly hard to avoid issues, a combination of factors have recently impacted Terminal 1 turn-around times, some of which were beyond our control including an exceptional IT outage, and unexpected high stock density. We have spent much of this week working through the backlog caused by last week’s delays and whilst some issues may remain into next week, we hope that service levels will return to the high standards usually offered by the Port of Liverpool.

“In further response to growth and demand, we are also introducing measures that will strengthen our ongoing capacity. Having undertaken a heavy recruitment programme of 150 employees at the end of 2020, new operators are due to complete their skilled training and extended weekend opening hours have already been introduced.

“As of this month, the Port of Liverpool will be opening it’s gates on a 24/7 basis right through to Christmas.

“Making the port more accessible over evenings and weekends allows customers who want to take advantage of the additional capacity, the flexibility to do so.

“As has been well covered, the market we operate in is suffering extreme volatility with huge and – sometimes unexpected – swings in demand.

“We’re proud of how we have responded to problems faced by UK supply chains generated from issues arising from elsewhere in the global port network, and remain committed to ensuring we respond to this continued volatility in a timely manner,” he said.

Source: The Loadstar