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UK apparel importers face shipping problems

European importers are poring over the new alliance schedules to work out which ones best fit their supply chains.

For many UK clothing retailers, Bangladesh continues to be one of the most important sourcing locations, but its principal port, Chittagong, is unable to handle deep sea mainline Asia-Europe vessels. Shippers are reliant on feeder connections between the Bangladeshi gateway and Colombo in Sri Lanka.

However, the source told the port call rotation of THE Alliance’s Far East-Europe 5 (FE5) service, the only one to call at Colombo and which has London Gateway as its last port of call after Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, meant the service was simply not suitable for the faster transit times required by clothing retailers.

The importer retailer told perhaps that it is due to a call further up the route in Asia, and that there are a lot of shippers in Northern Europe who are taking cargo from there – time will tell whether the carriers revisit that decision. At the moment, it [the FE5] is useless for us, but if in six months the rotation is changed then we will be happy to look at it again.

The FE5’s elongated transit time between Colombo and the UK will also work to the detriment of Sri Lanka, which itself has a sizeable clothing and textile industry.

At the recent Brexit seminar organised by the Freight Transport Association, the chairman of Sri Lanka’s Shippers’ Council, Michael Joseph Sean van Dort, said the UK represented a $1bn market for the island, with 10% of its exports bound for the UK.

He added: “Articles of apparel make up our biggest exports and 41% of them are shipped to the UK. Sri Lanka has competencies that Britain demands,” he said.