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Dover attacks deep sea port failures

With reports that even a post-Brexit two-minute delay to every truck at Dover could lead to 17-mile tailbacks, the port has, strangely, pointed the finger at Felixstowe and Southampton, even though they are in a different business segment 

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Richard Christian, Dover Harbour Board’s Head of Policy & Communications, says "that much of the negative Brexit talk on ports has been about queues of lorries at Dover, but not about worsening quayside and landside box port congestion at the UK’s big container terminals.


"More ultra-large container vessels are being diverted from major UK container ports such as Southampton to non-UK hubs, and imports destined for the UK Christmas market end up in Rotterdam delayed for several weeks."


Everybody knows that the delays at the UK’s two biggest deep sea ports are due to the chaos caused by the IT fiasco at Felixstowe, with knock-on effects at Southampton.


However, this is irrelevant to the question of what happens to accompanied truck traffic and the huge numbers of passengers and cars [mostly tourists] via the Dover Straits - the drive-on/drive-off (do-do) ferries and Getlink truck shuttles - in the event of a "no deal" Brexit, so it is not clear why Dover wants to draw attention to it.


Of course East Coast short sea ports have stated that they see opportunities arising from Brexit and are investing to accommodate new or enhanced ro-ro or lo-lo services from various operators, such as Samskip, DFDS, A2B-Online, newcomer I-Motion, Ferrymasters, CLdN Ro-Ro and Unifeeder. However, the demand for longer, unaccompanied crossings is also being driven by the growing problem of driver shortages throughout Europe and increased willingness of shippers to lower their carbon footprint, even though the environmental costs of trucking long distances are more or less completely externalised today.


Christian says that "UK ro-ro ports such as Hull or Immingham say they could only ever take up to 20% of Dover’s traffic at an eye-watering cost of around £2.5B.


"The Government’s focus is and has been on keeping all trade flowing through Dover.Why? It is because British consumers ordering or buying their Christmas presents right up to the last minute want to know they will get them in time; because the ferries needed to divert Dover’s traffic do not actually exist; because the crossings are too long and the sailings too infrequent; and because leaving 80% of Dover’s traffic in a queue helps no-one. That is cheap, or perhaps not so cheap, opportunism at a time when Britain is again turning to its historic frontline, to Dover, for a solution that will actually work for everyone."


This figure of £2.5B is the one recently quoted by the port as the supply chain costs of switching to longer, unaccompanied North Sea crossings, based on calculations by Oxera Consulting. It is not a figure from ABP, which operates Hull and Immingham.


Peel Ports is the only port operating group that has openly attacked the Straits do-do model in the Brexit context, first calling for shippers to consider its North West facilities and then openly talking of Brexit opportunities at Great Yarmouth.


The sheer volume of Straits do-do traffic means it has to remain a vital corridor for UK-Continent traffic, so it will not become, like the dodo, extinct. At the same time there is no entitlement in this business and shippers and forwarders have to consider alternatives, especially with the ongoing uncertainties.

  • A senior Member of Parliament, Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge & Malling) has complained that the British government is pushing ahead with a plan to convert the M26 motorway - which connects Dover and Getlink with the national motorway network via the M20/M25 - into a truck park, as part of its contingency preparations for a "no deal" Brexit.
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