Short-Sea Container Services – An Alternative to Road Freight and Post-Brexit Delays at Dover

Short-Sea Container Services – An Alternative to Road Freight and Post-Brexit Delays at Dover


4 minute read | By Denholm Good Logistics

Last updated: January 15, 2024 | Published: May 31, 2019


Although the people of the UK and no doubt the rest of the world are still wondering whether the UK will ever actually leave the European Union, it’s always best to be prepared. So, following on from our previous posts about how to prepare for Brexit, our latest article considers the congestion that could occur around the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel if new customs procedures do not permit the current free flow of cargo, and how Short-sea container service could be the solution.

We’ve highlighted before that sea freight is an excellent alternative to road freight for getting goods in and out of the UK, and if problems ensue at Dover, short sea container services could be a credible option for many shippers. One example that demonstrates how viable sea freight is as an alternative to road transport is Turkey. We offer weekly sea freight services from Istanbul and Izmir with transits similar to current road freight transits. Port to port is around 8-9 days, and door to door is approximately 14-16 days. What’s more, sea freight delivers significant reductions in freight costs too.

As well as Turkey, short sea services connect UK ports to Continental Europe key North Europe container transshipment hub ports Rotterdam and Antwerp along with EU and non-EU countries in the Mediterranean such as Italy, Greece, Spain, France and Egypt and Israel.

A Recent Study

A recent study in the marketplace supports this idea and suggests that shortsea container services between the EU and the UK could provide the much-needed alternative capacity to ease congestion at the Port of Dover after Brexit. It also states that these alternatives are feasible and easy to implement, adding that there are multiple UK container terminals with sufficient capacity to accommodate demand.

Key findings highlighted in the study:

  • Volumes that could be rerouted from Dover: Of the cargo in the 2.5 million trailers handled by Dover today, 20% could move to another mode of transport. This translates to around 250,000 units a year (in each direction), equivalent to around 10,000 TEU per week in each direction.
  • Alternative routes and modes: There are four ways that container shipping lines could cater for this demand: making use of spare capacity on existing services; increasing frequency on existing services; increasing vessel sizes on existing services; launching new services. The extra demand would not require a significant expansion in capacity.
  • Spare capacity at UK container terminals: Combined, 11 container ports in the UK have 5.9m TEU p.a. of spare capacity, most of which in southeast England close to Dover but also in northern England markets This is sufficient to handle this additional volume and provides wide geographical coverage.
  • Vessel Availability: There are sufficient container vessels in the market today – feeder size vessels represent over half of the total fleet – and there is a very liquid charter market.
  • Container box Availability: North Europe, in general, imports more full containers than it exports. Surplus containers on the Continent could be used for exports to the UK. After unpacking, these containers could be moved to demand locations in Asia on deep-sea services.

The Advantages of Short Sea Container Services

As well as reducing congestion at Dover and avoiding delays, there are further advantages of using short sea container services including:

  • Cost Savings
  • Reliable & Fixed Transit Times to the UK
  • Cargo Safety
  • Environmentally Friendly
  • Deliveries / Fixed Schedules

For more helpful guidance on how you can prepare for Brexit, check out our handy infographic – Brexit – Getting prepared for No Deal.

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