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Sheerness Docks in bid to take extra work from Dover

By John Nurden

Importers and exporters should switch to using Sheerness to prevent a post-Brexit 'gridlock' at Dover.

That is the warning from Peel Ports, which runs the deep-water docks on the Isle of Sheppey.

The company says a fundamental rethink of cross-channel roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) services is desperately needed.

Peel Ports, Sheerness (2475018)
Peel Ports, Sheerness (2475018)

Bosses are calling on cargo owners and hauliers to study two solutions based on those used for Irish sea freight which could ease congestion at Dover.

Stephen Carr, the company's commercial director, said today: "The supply chain needs certainty, predictability and resilience.

"But we all know about the acute delays and problems which already exist at Dover when there’s the slightest disruption to normal operations.

Peel Ports' Stephen Carr (2475233)
Peel Ports' Stephen Carr (2475233)

"There’s a growing realisation in the logistics community that we’re at a tipping point that will force traffic away from the Dover Straits.

“Businesses simply can’t take a huge gamble on what a post-Brexit world might look like, especially those shipping 'just-in-time' perishable goods.

"They need to take steps now to ensure they can deliver goods on time without incurring massive extra costs or compromising on quality.

Trailers waiting in the docks (2472962)
Trailers waiting in the docks (2472962)

"That is perfectly achievable by moving away from the fixation with Dover and by using unaccompanied trailers, as many companies already do on the Irish Sea.”

He added: "This would provide a much-needed economic boost to the local community with the creation of hundreds of new jobs in port-related activity, haulage, logistics and distribution."

More than three-quarters of all ro-ro freight - about four million units - from Europe passes through the Dover Straits with 99% using a lorry driver with a cab and trailer. But in Ireland, more than half of the cargo arrives in trailers only.

Goods are held as contingency stock and can be kept up to 48 hours after their arrival.

Sheerness Port (2472960)
Sheerness Port (2472960)

Peel Ports believes this would provide more time for border checks without the pressure of them needing to be completed during a short sea crossing or at a congested border point.

Mr Carr said: "Cargo owners and their supply chain providers typically need freight units to leave ports immediately on arrival or just 90 minutes after vessel departure from Calais.

"But there’s no certainty in the industry that this can be achieved reliably post-Brexit.

Peel Ports, Sheerness (2475016)
Peel Ports, Sheerness (2475016)

"Companies could look at creating stockpiles in UK warehouses that will allow them to meet business requirements in the event of any delays but that results in long leases and increased road or rail mileage in diverting to warehouses, increased handling costs and increased risk of damage to goods.

"Also, it’s not clear that such warehousing is available in sufficient supply or on flexible terms.

“The modelling we’ve done shows that routing via ports such as Sheerness is just as efficient as the existing options through the Dover Straits, as although the sea leg is longer, road miles are reduced.

"Door-to-door cargo owners might actually save money as well as avoiding congestion and reducing carbon emissions.

"Other benefits include improved productivity for hauliers as drivers do not waste any time on the sea-leg.”

The UK has around 30 major ports, the majority of which handle ro-ro cargo.

Although not all have the docking facilities or the land required at the moment, the Port of Sheerness already has extensive ro-ro capabilities and capacity to accommodate goods diverted away from delays at Dover.

Peel Ports, the UK's second-largest port group, operates four ports with ro-ro capabilities at Sheerness, Liverpool, Clydeport and Heysham in Lancashire.

It also operates a container terminal in Dublin, owns the BG Freight shipping line and handles 60 million tonnes of cargo every year.

It employs 2,300 staff and last year had a revenue of £644 million.

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