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The HGV driver shortage is creating a backlog of containers at the Port of Felixstowe which could create “a serious issue” for the UK supply chain in the run up to Christmas, Logistics UK warned this week.

The alert comes as Maersk confirmed it is rerouting its larger ships away from Felixstowe, which handles 36% of the country’s containerised freight, to European ports for redistribution to the UK via smaller vessels.

Retailers Tesco and Ikea have also been hit by the problems at the port with the supermarket shifting some of its freight onto rail and Ikea confirming it has faced "some challenges in returning containers" to Felixstowe, although the retailer insists it has "only seen minimal impact".

Lars Mikael Jensen, Maersk head of global ocean network, said that whilst the economic recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns had put strain on supply chains and ports around the world, the UK truck driver shortage has made this situation worse in the UK.

He added: “We are having to deviate some of the bigger ships away from Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for the cargo.”

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In a statement, the Port of Felixstowe said: “The pre-Christmas peak, combined with haulage shortages, congested inland terminals, poor vessel schedule reliability and the pandemic, has resulted in a build-up of containers at the port.

“Empty container levels remain high as import containers are returned and we are asking shipping lines to remove them as quickly as possible.”

Alex Veitch, deputy director of public policy at Logistics UK, told ITV News: “The current issues being experienced at Felixstowe port are partly due to the HGV driver shortage.

"Logistics UK’s members are reporting that some are struggling to source drivers to pick up and deliver containers, which is causing a backlog in the port which prevents new loads from being landed; there are also issues with finding drivers to work in the port itself."

He added that whilst businesses are working around the clock to find alternative routes to bring goods to the UK, he warned that “this could become a serious issue for UK supply chains, although there are steps government could take to help ease the situation.

He said Logistics UK is calling on the government to speed up processing the HGV driver testing backlog to get more British people driving, expand the remit of the temporary visa scheme for EU HGV drivers to encompass all types of haulage, and provide short-term assistance for businesses to move containers to external sector storage facilities.