Low exports mean 'empty' backlog at port

BRITAIN'S poor export trade is being blamed for increasing numbers of containers that are stacked at Felixstowe port…containing nothing but fresh air.Many of the boxes are not exactly straining the cranes and weighing down the ships because hundreds of them are just empty vessels.

By Richard Cornwell

BRITAIN'S poor export trade is being blamed for increasing numbers of containers that are stacked at Felixstowe port…containing nothing but fresh air.

Many of the boxes are not exactly straining the cranes and weighing down the ships because hundreds of them are just empty vessels.

The port is having to deal with increasing numbers of empty boxes because of decreasing exports and shippers' needing to get the containers back to those countries waiting to fill them up again.

A problem affecting the whole shipping industry, it cost $13bn last year to 'reposition' empty containers, according to experts.

The recent strike by longshoremen on the west coast of America has only made the situation worse, leaving the port struggling to find room to store all the empty boxes and having to use sites outside the port.

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Corporate affairs manager Paul Davey said: "A lot of the boxes being exported contain fresh air.

"The industry has to reposition the empties so that they can be refilled again, and most of them need to go back to the Far East, where the goods are made.

"There are always large numbers of empty boxes to deal with but it is worse at this time of the year because of Christmas and the need to get the boxes back so they can be filled with Christmas goods.

"The strike on the west coast of America made it worse because ships were waiting to be unloaded in US ports and no empties were being returned."

Britain's imbalance in export and import trade means the port has to store empties – vulnerable to being blown over in extremely high winds – in stacks in its quayside container parks until there is room on ships to return them.

Experts say that of the millions of containers travelling on the high seas each day around 20 per cent of them have nothing inside whatsoever.

In America, more than a quarter of all containers handled by its ports are now reckoned to be empty.

Containers are not cheap to buy and they have a lifespan of several years. With metal prices having plunged on the world markets it is not worth crushing them – and so they are used again and again to transport goods.

Experts Drewry Shipping Consultants estimate that the "repositioning" of empties cost the shipping industry 13 billion dollars last year.

Some shippers accept that it is costly to handle empties, but say there is a necessity to get the boxes back to where they can be re-used and there would be more costs in making new ones or disposing of those not returned.

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