Honda turns to airfreight as UK box ports face gridlock

By Damian Brett

Car manufacturer Honda will pause production in the UK and turn to airfreight to get parts into the country as container ports face gridlock.

The Japanese firm told the BBC that it will pause production at its Swindon, UK, site today due to a transport-related parts delay that is affecting its just-in-time supply chain operation.

The company said that it hopes to restart to production as soon as possible and was looking at airfreight to get parts into the country.

The development comes as the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, has been facing congestion issues over recent weeks.

A range of reasons given for the issues: 1,000s of containers of government PPE were left at the port for weeks, the implementation of a new vehicle booking system (VBS), stockpiling of goods ahead of Brexit, a post lockdown rush, a backlog of empty containers and a general increase in demand.

The gridlock has also had knock-on effects at the county’s other two deepsea container gateways; Southampton and London Gateway, with vessels reportedly leaving the three ports before fully offloading in order to maintain schedules.

Freight forwarder Westbound Shipping Services said: “While all the main UK container ports have been working through major delays, Felixstowe has been particularly challenging, contributing to delivery delays of up to two weeks.

“We are now experiencing similar problems at Southampton, including severe congestion, empty containers being refused and no VBS transport booking slots being available.”

These boxes will then need to be transported back to the UK from continental European facilities. Some services are skipping UK ports of call or utilising gateways further north despite the extra sailing time.

Supply chain association Logistics UK said the sector was working hard to maintain supply chains. It has written to the UK government for help

Zoe McLernon, the business group’s policy manager, said: “The issues have occurred as a result of the three ‘C’s – COVID19, Christmas and Customs – impacting the industry at the same time, and we have this week written to Secretary of State Grant Shapps outlining the situation and requesting sensible flexibilities and easements such as running more and longer freight trains to and from ports, allowing hauliers additional flexibility to collect containers outside of normal hours and the potential for drivers to take on longer shifts where possible to enable the industry to process goods through ports as quickly as possible.

“As an industry, logistics is flexible and adaptable, as seen by the fact that port congestion has eased over the past couple of weeks, although high volumes do remain, and delays could persist for some months. Our supply chain is complicated and highly interconnected, and we are part of a bigger, global system which keeps us stocked with the goods and services we need.”

There are also issues elsewhere in Europe and French shipping line CMA CGM has reportedly gone as far as saying it will not take anymore Asia-North Europe bookings in December.

Rate portal Freightos said that prices from Asia to North Europe are up by around 141% year on year to more than $4,000 per 40ft equivalent unit.

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