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Supermarkets are searching for alternative ways to bring food into Britain as ships are diverted from the UK's main port due to congestion.

The world's largest container shipping company, the Danish firm AP Moller-Maersk, said the Suffolk port – which handles about 40 % of containers coming in and out of the UK – was among the most challenging ports in the world, after Los Angeles and Savannah in the US.

The congestion is down to a lack of HGV drivers available to move the unloaded containers to free up space.

Instead, goods destined for the UK are being transferred onto small ships, delaying the time it takes for things to arrive.

Lars Mikael Jensen, head of global ocean network at Maersk, told the Financial Times on Monday : "We had to stop operations on a ship because there was nowhere to discharge the containers.

"Felixstowe is among the top two or three worst-hit terminals [ globally ].

We are having to deviate some of the bigger ships away from Felixstowe and relay some of the smaller ships for the cargo."

Containers are stacking up at Felixstowe, Britain's biggest container port, in yet another pre-Christmas crisis emerging today as it is taking ten days instead of five for each one to be moved due to a lack of HGV drivers and port staff

The BRC said on Tuesday that the congestion at Felixstowe was another consequence of the ongoing HGV driver shortage.

The organisation, which counts most high street retailers and supermarkets as members, said that "retailers are working closely with suppliers to mitigate issues, including finding alternative routes to bring good into the country, but further disruption may be unavoidable."

the government recently drafted in military personnel to help deliver fuel and to issue emergency temporary visa scheme to increase the pool of available hgv drivers.

The trade body for UK port operators also said on Tuesday that some ports are managing storage space with "short-term restrictions".

Lorry driver shortage (Image: Express)

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group ( UKMPG ), said : "As the UK's gateways for 95 per cent of trade, ports are the jam in the sandwich between surging, volatile shipping and UK supply chains badly impacting by factors such as HGV driver shortages."

Tesco has already said that it has increased its use of rail freight to try and reduce the impact of driver shortages on stock.

the uk's largest commercial port says the supply chain crisis has caused a logjam of shipping containers.

The Port of Felixstowe, which handles 36 % of the UK's freight container traffic, blamed the busy pre-Christmas period and haulage shortages.

Dr Jean-Paul Rodrigue from Hofstra University in New York put together this map showing the world's main shipping routes

The Financial Times first reported on Tuesday that Maersk was re-routing ships away from Felixstowe to other European ports, where smaller vessels will be used for UK deliveries.

"Instead of wasting time waiting, we progressed to the next stop, and arranged that the boxes are relayed from that port rather than wait for a week and then discharge."

However, shipping firms say delays at Felixstowe have increased again recently, and the current problems come at the beginning of the busiest period of the year as retailers import higher quantities of goods from China and the far east to sell during the Christmas trading season.

A spokesman for the port 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.

This map from the Department of Transport shows ports split by cargo group. Ro-Ro stands for Roll-on/Roll-off, as in lorries; while Lo-Lo stands for Lift-on/Lift-off, as in containers

On top of this, there are a high number of empty containers currently sitting at the port.

felixstowe said it is asking shipping lines to remove them as quickly as possible.

The vast majority of import containers are cleared for collection within minutes of arriving and there are over 1,000 unused haulier bookings most days."

"However, the situation is improving and there is more spare space for import containers this week, than at any time since the beginning of July, when supply chain impacts first started to bite."

This graphic from Danish logistics and shipping company DFDS shows its freight shipping routes in Europe and beyond

"Ports have taken significant action to respond to the challenges and build resilience."

"There is a shortage of truckers in the UK.

The backlog at Felixstowe comes as the spectre of bare shelves continued to haunt supermarkets.

Although CO2 is a only a small percentage of total cost for most soft drinks producers, the significantly higher prices for supply only add to the economic pressures already facing manufacturers, including the shortage of HGV drivers. '

Port of Savannah (Image: Getty)

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added : 'We welcome a deal to ensure that CO2 supplies are secure until after Christmas.

Fears are growing about Christmas stock shortages after Felixstowe, the UK's biggest container port, was forced to turn away ships from Asia because of a backlog of containers caused by the HGV driver shortage.

As well as America's largest ports struggling to cope, matters have been made worse as China's Yantian port was forced to close.

"The trouble is that now we don't have the same speed of flow of boxes moving in and out.

This Department for Transport map shows how much traffic is handled by ports dealing with more than two million tonnes

The British International Freight Association ( BIFA ) trade body said its members had been dealing with supply chain disruption for more than 12 months.

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