Another day starts with the daily challenge to make sure our Ocean Carriers are on target to meet the deliveries we have booked. This is our first daily task every day, to check for the fourth time, the schedule of the deliveries booked for that day. Our process is to check the morning of delivery, the day before that, the day before that, and the week before that. It’s extremely labour intensive, but it is the only way.

Carriers currently require up to 3 weeks lead time to arrange delivery of import cargo but of course, at that early stage they cannot guarantee the actual time of delivery. Almost as dramatic are export collection lead times, currently requiring at least 7 days-notice, usually more. One alternative is ‘merchant haulage’ [direct trucking company arrangement] which is usually a more costly alternative but certainly more reliable. The difficulty is that the customer generally only wants to pay the ‘stand-by’ cost for the ‘guaranteed’ service. Even though, even by utilising Merchant Haulage, lead times are now catching up with the carriers and requiring at least a 7 days-notice for import deliveries to ensure containers are delivered on schedule. With such lengthy delays it is making the supply chain planning very challenging and keeping to a rigid time-slots, almost impossible.

The situation is compounded by the current carrier trend of ‘Cutting and Running’ – meaning the vessel departs early from the port without discharging the containers at the port intended, instead discharging at other European Ports before returning by feeder vessel – sometimes two weeks later. A further complication is the port IT systems and the challenges at the ports, causing delays when collecting the containers with collecting drivers often experiencing delays with port bookings, vessel delays and berth congestion. There is more to contend with on the horizon too; with the season for inclement weather coming, causing vessel discharge delays due to high winds and fog, this will add to the current woes and reasons for failure that the industry bemoans on a daily basis.

So there are still challenging times ahead, as this is rapidly becoming the norm for UK container arrivals. Our best advice is that Importers need to factor this into their forecasts as there does not appear to be any immediate resolution. Paying more than the bare minimum certainly helps cure a situation which in fact, it created. This enables consistency and helps speed up the delivery time from arrival at UK Port to the customer.

As I began, to combat the current situation, the NNR Ocean team have put extreme measures in place to monitor performance. It has become a necessity to check and double check then check again because missing a delivery slot due to carrier failure doesn’t even guarantee that the carrier will arrange to deliver at the rearranged time requested, nor waive the expensive port demurrage fees.

Challenging times indeed.