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Asia – UK and Europe container routes hit record highs

The Port of Antwerp’s growing short-sea sector is receiving a boost from the shortage of truck drivers in the UK amid a new post-Brexit environment and growing container traffic, a port official said.

Trade volumes between the UK and the EU fell after the UK’s exit from the bloc, but the Port of Antwerp’s short-sea volumes have seen an increase, Justin Atkin, the Port of Antwerp’s representative for Ireland and the UK, told S&P Global Platts.

This was due to an increase in feeder transshipment volumes and the temporary suspension of certain direct deepsea calls in the UK.

The UK is short of about 100,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers and it will take at least another 18 months to train them, according to the UK’s Road Haulage Association

“Why not put [volumes] in an unaccompanied truck, delivered to port in a container or a trailer, and just let that unit sail from Antwerp directly to a more regional UK port?” he said.

This comes at a time of growing pressure on container infrastructure, as the UK’s departure from the EU has caused queues at ports in Northwest Europe and as an ongoing trend of growing container demand has caused bottlenecks in port infrastructure.

Taking a driver out of the equation means only the goods transported need to be checked and no paperwork is required for drivers, who are in short supply.

Containers have been boosted by a surge in demand from home deliveries and a stronger buying appetite for personal protective equipment since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has presented bottlenecks in capacity.

Containers and breakbulk have been growth areas at the port, Atkin said. Conventional breakbulk throughput at the port rose 41.2% year on year in the first half of 2021 to 4.9 million mt.

Containers are the only cargo type that has continuously grown since 2014, up 4.3% on the year to 6.20 million twenty-foot equivalent unit and 3.9% higher compared with 2019, Port of Antwerp data showed.

Platts assessed its container index, a weighted index of global container freight rates, at $7,357.70/forty-foot equivalent unit Aug. 10, compared with $1,333.12/FEU on Aug. 10, 2020.

The UK accounted for about 14.96 million mt of throughput in 2020 at the Port of Antwerp, and the country is the second largest market out of a total throughput of 240 million mt/year, Atkin said.

Source: S&P Global Platts

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