June the 10th 2018. A date that will be etched in the minds of Felixstowe Port officials for years to come.
This was the date The Port of Felixstowe,, the biggest container port in the UK, brought in its new nGen terminal operating system. And from that point on chaos has ensued as the system, designed to combine the five existing operating programmes, failed.
With the port in technological limbo as IT experts scratched their heads trying to figure it all out, the systems reverted to manual data processes, something nobody envisaged or wanted.
The result was a plunge in productivity by a huge 50%. Vessels arriving suddenly did not have enough time to complete empty loadings so had to ‘cut and run’ and speaking to Felixstowe based hauliers the overwhelming sentiment has been one of frustration.
The problems faced by hauliers is resulting from the manual system implemented meaning drivers may be passed from terminal to terminal in the hope it’s eventually right, or vessels arriving at other ports. Not just a problem for UK supply chains but is causing knock on delays for customers at North European, Scandinavian and Blatic ports.
The diversion of key accounts for Felixstowe could be something that comes back and bites Felixstowe as clients such as MSC get cosy with DP Worlds London Gateway and Southampton who no doubt are licking their lips at Felixstowes nightmare.
Furthermore, just this week Maersk has announced it is moving two 2M alliance service calls to Peel Ports Liverpool2 terminal for 12 weeks. A relentless gifting to the competition! This boost for Liverpool, which has been striving to attract container lines since opening in 2016, will see them rolling out the red carpet as they hope to retain Maersks services permanently.
Having said all this, Felixstowe harbour master has declared that the worst is now over and they expect business to return to full capacity over the coming weeks.
He reports that recent technical improvements has resulted in the port being able to function at about 90% of its previous capacity, up from 70% three weeks ago.
Although things appear to now be stablising the big question is whether this disastrous period has harmed relationships with the big lines. As competing ports mature and sense weakness at Felixstowe, The Port of Felixstowe has everything to prove that it has a stable infrastructure to deliver year round first class performance. The jury is now out.