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Ports
PORTS LEFT CHOKING ON EMPTIES
Date:2018-12-29 Readers:
Alex Hughes reports on strategies to reduce empty container backlogs that clog up the quay

Empty containers are an annoying fact of life for many container terminals. While they undoubtedly generate much needed revenue, they can also take up valuable stacking space, as DP World Southampton recently found out to its cost.

In the autumn of 2018, the DP World terminal at the Port of Southampton had to overcome the challenge of accommodating a larger-than-usual number of empty containers. Aart Hille Ris Lambers, DP World's UK commercial director, explains that many of its shipping line customers had been over their empty allowance, resulting in the terminal's empties park being full, with excess empties overflowing into the regular stack. This, in turn, blocked space for normal import and export boxes.

“Empty containers were only one factor that contributed to our stack levels getting very high in early September,” says Mr Lambers. “The normal flow of empties at the time was also disrupted due to lines not shipping out enough empties while a higher than normal number of empties were returning to the terminal.”

This latter problem was partly the result of normal pre-Christmas peak season flows and partly because UK inland depots were full, meaning all empties were being returned to the port without delay.

“In itself, the empties would not have been a problem. However, this was combined with numerous delayed vessels, which caused a much larger-than-normal number of imports to be discharged within the first week of September, and that on top of some unexpectedly large transhipment volumes from the ocean carriers trying to bypass ports for schedule recovery,” he explains.

To make matters worse, the ongoing national shortage of haulage drivers in the UK became very clear shortly after the August bank holiday weekend, causing imports to clear the Southampton terminal more slowly than normal.

“After the August bank holiday, import dwell times went up by 50% meaning we were keeping 50% more import containers than we normally do during our peak season,” says Mr Lambers.

https://www.portstrategy.com/news101/port-operations/port-performance/Ports-left-choking-on-empties

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