British ports are bracing for fresh supply chain chaos as a glut of goods cascading in from China risks coinciding with lengthy rail strikes. A '
A ‘deluge’ of imports is expected in around six weeks as factories around the industrial hub of Shanghai begin to reopen after long Covid lockdowns.
Containers full of goods could reach major ports like Southampton and London Gateway just as Britain goes through its biggest rail strike for decades.
Nearly a third of goods arriving in the UK in containers – mainly consumer electronics, toys, furniture and clothes – are carried to their final destination by rail.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, has crowed that strikes aimed at shutting down Britain’s railways this summer could go on for a ‘very, very long time’.
A ‘deluge’ of imports is expected in around six weeks as factories around the industrial hub of Shanghai begin to reopen after long Covid lockdowns. Pic: A container docking at Southampton
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he did not divulge how much disruption the proposed ‘summer of discontent’ action would cause, but said he planned for strikes to be ‘as effective as possible from our point of view’.
Shipping industry figures warned the ‘perfect storm’ of a strike in imports and rail strikes could lead to shipping delays and higher prices.
Simon Heaney, a supply chain researcher at Drewry, a maritime consultancy, said supply chains remain particularly vulnerable due to staff shortages and Covid-related disruption.
Explaining the outlook, he told MailOnline: ‘China going into lockdown put a major squeeze on factory production in Shanghai and its hinterland, so the risk is now the lockdowns are looking like they’re over and factories are pumping out goods there’s going to be a deluge of orders coming out of Shanghai and landing all at the same time in ports around the world.
‘The fear is that ports are already under strain and to get this sudden deluge could throw back any kind of recovery we will see in the supply chain.
‘But what we don’t know yet is how quickly production will get going again in Shanghai.
‘And ports such as Rotterdam don’t think they’ll be a problem. We just don’t know at the moment.
‘Because of inflation we are also seeing a waning of demand for containerised goods, which may reduce the chance of this becoming a serious problem.’
A worker operates a machine for knitting socks in a Chinese factory as the nation begins to restart industrial production after a wave of crippling lockdowns
Nearly a third of goods arriving in the UK in containers – mainly consumer electronics, toys, furniture and clothes – are carried to their final destination by rail. Pic: A freight train leaving the Port of Felixstowe
Richard Ballantyne, CEO of the British Ports Association, said the impact of the rail strikes largely depended on how long they went on for. He told MailOnline: ‘About 30 per cent of the containers that come into the UK leave ports via rail – so this could be very unhelpful and add extra cost, but we’ve got a bit of extra back-up in our road network that would help containers to carry on moving.
‘We’re looking at goods like electronics, furniture, clothes, iPads, etc, not food and everyday items.’
Most goods are moved around the world on container ships. During the pandemic, trade flows were dramatically disrupted due to ports closing due to lockdowns, in addition to staff shortages caused by sailors, warehouse staff and lorry drivers having to go into isolation.
Last year also saw major problems, with a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK, USA and Europe leading to hundreds of ships being unable to dock and unload their goods.
Meanwhile, vast piles of empty containers appeared in fields near major UK container ports as the dearth of lorry drivers combined with global shipping firms being unable to fulfil their orders.
Mr Ballantyne said he did not expect the situation to be as serious in the coming weeks, but warned there could still be short-term pain.
‘I wouldn’t say we’re looking at the same situation as we had during the height of the pandemic when you had both east and west going in or coming out of various lockdowns,’ he said.
‘But this could be an unhelpful blip and coupled with National Rail strikes it could cause some short-term headaches for the logistics industry.’
DP World, which operates Southampton container port and London Gateway on the Thames Estuary, declined to comment.