The world’s largest shipping firm has diverted giant cargo ships away from the UK leading to fears of a shortage of toys, clothes and electronics at Christmas.
The Danish shipping giant Maersk announced that larger vessels would be ordered to dock elsewhere in Europe to avoid growing congestion at Felixstowe Port in Suffolk caused in part by a shortage of lorry drivers.
Business owners last night complained that vital supplies and Christmas gifts were “buried somewhere” among thousands of containers piled high on the docks. One senior Maersk executive warned the disruption was likely to last well into the New Year, while hauliers said they were “scared for the final rush” before the festive period.
Felixstowe, Britain’s biggest container port, handles around 36pc of imports and exports and is now struggling to cope with the volume of cargo arriving from Asia via the Suez Canal.
The average shipping container arriving at Felixstowe is currently spending more than nine days at the port before it is collected – more than double the average ‘dwell time’ last year.
Hauliers estimated that the number of collections last month was down by up to 20 per cent, leading to a backlog of around 7,500 full containers and around 50,000 empty ones waiting at the terminal to be taken away. There are also labour issues at the port, with a shortage of workers to lift the containers on and off the ships.
Firms affected by the congestion are understood to include Nestle, Tesco and the furniture firm Ikea as well as hundreds of smaller British companies expecting orders from around the world. Management at Felixstowe are now considering turning vessels away unless the situation improves, sources said.