One of the UK's biggest toy retailers is warning delays at UK ports will result in shortages this Christmas. The Entertainer say it would get harder to get stock to the right places at the right time.
A container logjam at ports, including Felixstowe, and a shortage of HGV lorry drivers has sparked widespread concern among retailers about future stocks.
The shortage of drivers means that shipment containers are being offloaded but left stacked on the quayside waiting for collection. The dearth of drivers also means there is a delay in returning empty containers for re-use.
The problems come at the busiest time of the year for retailers, when most goods are imported from Asia to sell during Christmas trading. Thomas O'Brien, managing director of Leeds-based toy designer Boxer Gifts, which manufacturers its products in China, said there's plenty of stock, but the real problem is that everything takes longer and is horrendously more expensive which means the company will be struggling to keep price increases to anything lower than 10%".
Entrepreneur Jack Griffiths, co-founder of loungewear company Snuggy, anticipates that he will have to get products shipped by railway and air rather than sea. It comes after £400,000 worth of his stock was delayed earlier in the year when it got stuck on the Ever Given ship blockage on the Suez Canal.
The UK's biggest commercial port Felixstowe said that it currently had 50,000 containers which were waiting to be collected, due to a shortage of HGV lorry drivers. Officials at the port have asked the shipping lines to reduce their empty container stocks as quickly as possible.
Danish shipping giant Maersk has been forced to divert some of its larger ships from Felixstowe to ports in the Netherlands and Belgium to avoid delays. Smaller ships are then transporting the goods to the UK.
A spokesperson for the port of Rotterdam said it has been busy over the last couple of weeks, but said: "It's more to do with Covid than anything else because of the balance of empty and full containers being in the wrong place." The pandemic is also being blamed in part for bottlenecks at US ports. President Joe Biden will meet with major US retailers as well as the bosses of ports to address the issues.
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chief executive Dubai-based DP World, the global logistics giant which operates out of Southampton and London Gateway, said: "Nobody knows how long it's going to take" to resolve the congestion and shipping container shortages. "I think it's going to take a long time," he adding. "The problem is complicated because you have a backlog of cargo."
The UK Ports Association trade group, said most UK ports were operating normally but that the shortage of drivers meant some delays. Industry bodies estimate there is a shortage of about 100,000 drivers - caused by several factors, including European drivers who went home during the pandemic, Brexit and a backlog of HGV driver tests.
The government recently drafted in military personnel to help with the driver shortages and deliver fuel. Emergency temporary visas have also been issued to foreign drivers.