Irish-bound lorries are facing seven-kilometre tailbacks into Holyhead as Brexit stockpiling, weather delays and the loss of a ferry to a Covid-19 outbreak is congesting the Welsh port.
Record levels of freight are moving across the Irish Sea in “phenomenal” volumes, one shipping industry insider said, ahead of new border controls taking effect with Brexit from January 1st.
The loss of a Belfast-bound Stena Line ferry from Birkenhead to a coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday forced hauliers to redirect to ferries out of Holyhead to Dublin Port.
Bad weather has forced the delay of ferries leaving the Stena Line-owned port becoming congested, with traffic backed up to Junction 3 on the A55 main road through north Wales.
A spokesman for Stena Line Ports, which operates Holyhead port, said the delays were due to a combination of the three factors: bad weather, Brexit stockbuilding and the Covid outbreak.
He said Stena Line’s records for carrying freight across the Irish Sea had been broken for three weeks in a row with an “absolutely massive” 20 per cent increase in volumes on last year.
“Some customers are bringing in six times what they would normally bring in,” he said.
No ferries were cancelled but there were long delays due to the adverse weather, the company said.
Stena’s ferry company hoped to have the Covid-striken vessel, the Stena Edda, back in service and operating on the Irish Sea route on Thursday night once a deep clean of the ship was completed.
“Traffic is now moving as we are filling ferries, but obviously we will get another wave later,” said the spokesman for the ferry company.
The British port is a critical transit point for traders and transporters in the Republic and Northern Ireland shipping goods to and from Britain and mainland Europe.
Just over half of the goods passing through Dublin Port, the State’s busiest port, goes to Holyhead.
The congestion has resulted in delayed arrivals in Dublin Port, which one shipping source said emphasised the importance of the transit chain between the two ports ahead of Brexit happening.
Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, said that delays into Holyhead were a forewarning of worse traffic to come if hauliers faced severe post-Brexit checks on either side of the Irish Sea.
“It is enough for weather to cause this without us causing own goals. If we are not efficient and streamlined with Brexit, this is what we are facing,” he said.
From January 1st, Irish traders and transport companies will not be permitted to ship goods or board Irish Sea ferries unless they have the correct customs documentation in place.
Seamus Leheny, policy manager with Logistics UK, a representative body for the transport industry, said that many of the lorries in the Holyhead traffic jam are Northern Ireland trucks.
Shipping volumes were up 50 per cent with “stockpiling an issue,” he tweeted.
“The tailbacks and congestion at Holyhead are worrying for Irish supply chains, both North and South as it’s the primary route for ‘just-in-time’ consumer goods so any delays will affect retail and manufacturing,” he said.
“We have many members raising concerns about this which is being fuelled by stockpiling in preparation for the end of the Brexit transition phase.”