Anyone planning a move overseas will be well aware of the challenges involved in this mammoth logistical exercise. Making the decision to up sticks is an exciting but nerve-racking experience – but it is just the start of a major and complex process.
Leading international removals specialist, John Mason International, has been helping people move their lives to far flung corners of the globe for almost a century. In that time, its team of relocation experts has seen a huge number of changes in the way the industry carries out its trade. But, since 2020, a series of issues has presented a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges – making the shipping of personal belongings to the likes of Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada a bit more of a headache.
David Ozard, General Manager of John Mason International and former chairman of the MTC and BAR Overseas Group provides some background, and an update about the current situation:
“Over the past two years, shipping containers have become increasingly scarce and the cost of securing one has soared,” he explains. “A number of factors have contributed to these supply disruptions – from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, to the Suez Canal incident, and the conflict in eastern Europe which is contributing to the soaring cost of oil.
“As one of the UK’s leading international removals specialists, our business relies heavily on the availability of shipping containers at realistic costs for our customers. Not only that, but we require access to quality haulage specialists to provide that all important link before and after shipping.
“Now we are moving into peak season for those moving abroad from the UK, and I can provide an update on the latest situation.
“I’m pleased to report a positive change in obtaining haulages – especially for loading at warehouses – rather than live collections at our customers’ existing homes.
“I’m hopeful this is the start of a more sustained improvement, but there are some possible sticking points to consider. The ongoing rail strikes are putting considerable strain on haulages, because containers and cargo have to be transported by road instead of by train – making access to lorries and drivers difficult, once again.
“Moving on to shipping line availability, I’m afraid progress here is very slow. The removal sector are struggling to gain effective communications with many lines – and they don’t appear to be focusing on customer service at all. Some are trying to improve, but this is from a very low starting point. Some shipping lines are just so understaffed, they are struggling to cope.
“In some cases, shipping lines are making short notice changes to their schedules – leading to logistical nightmares for John Mason International and fellow international removals companies across the world.
“ONE line recently suspended their Australia and New Zealand service for a month – giving less than a week’s notice. And we must still provide a minimum of six weeks’ notice to alternative shipping line, Hapag-Lloyd to be in with a chance to bag a slot.
“The Movers Trader Club (MTC), of which we a member, is allocated a limited number of slots on each vessel and service. However, once these are full, we have to make do with a less than ideal alternative.
“So, how is all this affecting the amount of time it takes to transport our customers’ belongings thousands of miles across the world? Well, it is almost impossible to give an accurate estimation. The extenuating circumstances affecting transit times are endless. Vessels arriving late into the UK, missing the UK altogether, containers not being loaded, delays on route at transit ports, and agents trying in vain to retrieve the containers from the port, are just a few of the issues we are dealing with. Be aware of anyone who gives you transit times, these will not be accurate and customer should get this in writing from the mover.
“In terms of costs, our membership of the MTC gives us some stability in freight rates. However, our contracts with shipping lines allow them to amend their charges based on fuel surcharges. The current soaring oil costs have provided many shipping lines with the perfect opportunity to increase rates. Interestingly, rates are not decreasing at the same speed when oil costs fall.
“Movers worldwide have been affected by the initial downturn in business due to the Covid pandemic – with some companies having to let good, experienced, colleagues go. This means that they are now struggling to cope with the massive upturn in shipments arriving – and this has significant knock-on effect. Some agents are ‘cherry picking’ the companies they deal with, and also the service they want to provide.
“Even leading removals companies like John Mason International are affected by this. Recently, a US agent gave us just 48 hours’ notice that they were unable to deal with any Full Container Loads (FCLs) consigned to them. It caused considerable angst among my colleagues on a Friday evening who, fortunately, were able to mitigate the impact because of the high volume of shipments we handle. Sadly, I anticipate this situation continuing in the short and medium term.
“Customs and quarantine clearances have experienced long delays too. Covid prompted many government organisations to off-load staff and, in many countries, they have struggled to recruit enough experienced individuals to deal with the recent up-turn in demand.
“Again, this is causing major delays worldwide. There have been times when we have had to wait four to six weeks, just for clearances, on both FCL and groupage containers. Once again, I’d like to reassure our customs that our agents are working tirelessly to ensure consignments are cleared and delivered as quickly as possible. However, backlogs are still building daily.
“Unfortunately, these infrastructure issues at destinations worldwide – including the UK – are sometimes reflected in the costs we quote for our customers. These are unavoidable, legitimate, costs – incurred by our industry due to port congestion, vessel delays, lack of haulage facilities, and storage costs. Sadly, there is very little we are able to do to avoid them, and all movers are experiencing rapid rises in costs.
“Agents overseas are having to adjust their tariffs at alarming rates. One US agent has increased theirs three times this year. And we are also seeing increases among some South African and Canadian agents.
“We expect more agents to make changes to theirs in the near future – most likely in Australia and New Zealand. Fortunately, John Mason International is in a favourable position due to the high levels of business we share with overseas agents. So, we have some leverage in negotiating rate increases, and when these increases take place. We adjust our pricing structures to reflect these changes, as soon as they have been established.
“We appreciate the concerns our customers may have about all these issues. The situation really isn’t easy, and it is shared by people across the globe. My team of experienced removals professionals is doing everything possible to minimise knock-on disruption and costs to those we are helping transport their lives abroad, and we will continue to do so as the current situation continues to develop.”