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Global Shipping Challenges

Posted by By Bournes International Moves - March 28, 2023


Image by bellergy on Pixabay

Our customers’ household goods shipments are typically transported internationally by sea container and we rely heavily on the global shipping industry to deliver our door-to-door service.

The global shipping industry has had to adapt to new challenges bought on by the Covid-19 pandemic – from lack of availability to delays and price volatility. We’ve been working hard to minimise the impact on our customers and the good news is that the situation is starting to improve.

However, some challenges still remain and this article outlines some areas that could potentially impact international removals customers.

Current Challenges (information provided by the British Association of Removers)

Available Space on vessels

Many destination ports are now operating more efficiently, with less frequent or shorter delays, however, according to the British Association of Removers some destination ports around the world are still experiencing varying lack of container or ship availability, leading to associated delays.

See the latest BAR global shipping conditions update for detailed information on specific routes. 

Haulage in the UK

The shipping industry, like many others, is experiencing a shortage of UK HGV drivers. The industry is working hard to find solutions, however high demand combined with short supply is driving up the container haulage costs included in moving quotations. Shipping Lines controlling the container haulage to and from the loading point and the port have recently introduced a Driver Retention Surcharge (DRS) aimed at maintaining their pool of HGV drivers, who would otherwise leave however despite this the shortage is causing some sea-container bookings to be cancelled at short notice.

Ports – capacity / strikes

Our UK Ports have experienced labour and Border Force strikes over the past 6 months; while no actions are currently scheduled that we are aware of, ongoing negotiation, particularly with UK Border Force workers continues. Customers should be aware of the impact of potential future strike actions which could cause unexpected delays both outbound (export) and inbound (import) shipments, particularly the inbound UK customs clearance time and subsequent container deliveries.

Lithium-Ion batteries

The acceptance of ‘Li-ION’ batteries in household and personal effects shipments is a complicated subject. There is a widely reported increased fire risk associated with these batteries. Shipping Lines themselves are so far, inconsistent in standardising their rules for their inclusion or exclusion from a consignment. Typically, we experience that Shipping Lines will decide on a shipment-by-shipment basis whether Li-ION batteries can be included. This extends to all and any items which may require such power units, examples include but not limited to cordless power tools, laptops, e-scooters, e-bikes and similar.

BAR recommends that Li-ION batteries are NOT shipped. If you do include them, the cargo will be declared (legal requirement) as ‘Hazardous Cargo’. If accepted by the Shipping Line, hazardous cargo will incur a substantial freight surcharge, driving up your cost of shipping. The rules for hazardous cargo declarations is fastidious; it will also impact the time is takes to secure a confirmed container space booking on a ship.

Non-declaration of Li-ION batteries (or other hazardous goods), whether by intent or in error, is treated by the Shipping Line as a misdeclaration. This is a serious offence under maritime law and would lead to a substantial fine (payable by the customer) (currently circa 30,000 US Dollars); in addition, the Shipping Line could confiscate and dispose of the consignment.

Impact on shippers

Price Volatility

We are now seeing shipping costs falling back more in line with pre-pandemic levels in the short-medium term. As members of the Movers Trading Club (MTC) we have some stability in freight rates, however, there is still some risk due to changing currency exchange rates and fuel costs which are still volatile.


Shipping Line container-freight rates and ancillary charges are typically quoted in US Dollars and Euros for sea-freight, and local destination currency for destination port and on-carriage charges. These ‘freight charges’ are, however, payable in British Pounds (GBP) and converted typically at time of the ships’ sailing date, applying the currency exchange rate at that point in time. BAR Movers generally will include these container-freight costs in their GBP quotation offered to the customer using the indicative exchange rate(s) valid at the time of their quotation. If there is significant movement in exchange rate between quoting and the point of sailing, there may be an adjustment required to the final invoice as unfortunately movers have no control over the actual exchange rate used and applied by the Shipping Line.


Sea Container freight contracts are subject to periodical ships fuel cost (bunkering) reviews. With the well-publicised energy supply issues, bunkering increases adding to the overall sea-container freight cost are possible and may affect your final invoice.

Availability / Lead time for bookings

Currently, we are experiencing availability delays up to 6-8 weeks for some lanes to get an available slot on a vessel. This means it is really important to plan as far in advance as possible as we need to ensure that equipment, haulage and a load date that works for the shipping line and customer are achieved. 

We will book space for our customer's shipments as soon as we have the ‘green light’ to move (e.g., all paperwork is in place). As soon as we have secured a booking with a shipping line we will notify our customers of the provisional date for sailing and confirm this once the container has been loaded onto the vessel.

Last-minute changes to bookings

We are still experiencing some last-minute changes and service failures from the shipping lines including:

  • delays in vessel sailing dates
  • rejection of bookings due to lack of space, loading dates or suspension of service lanes
  • cancellation or postponement of booked space due to changing ship schedules, lack of haulage, empty containers or port capacity
  • changing of routes/transit time
  • cancellation of haulage to collect or deliver containers
  • delays due to congestion

Unfortunately, there is little a moving company can do to solve this (although we are trying very hard!) and this may mean planning to load your shipment onto one of our vehicles and returning to our warehouse to load onto the shipping container from there, reducing the impact of any issues as above if they do occur (for example not being able to vacate your property in time).

Please bear with us as although we are working hard to ensure our customers are kept up to date as quickly as possible we are also experiencing poor communication from shipping lines in some instances, including slow notification of changes.

We will not be able to confirm shipping/estimated arrival dates until a shipment has been loaded. Please talk to your move manager before committing to any dates that are dependent on your shipment date. 

What do International shipping customers need to do?

Whilst these issues are completely out of our control our teams are working hard to share information with our customers and set realistic and transparent expectations when it comes to shipping schedules and costs.

Here are a few things you can do to minimise the impact of these shipping challenges on your international move:

  1. Book your move as early as possible and discuss your schedule plans early with your move manager. 
  2. Be prepared for delays, longer transit times than usual and for last-minute changes.
  3. Talk to your move manager before committing to bookings for flights or accommodation. If these depend on the arrival of your shipment, they should not be confirmed before move dates are finalised. 
  4. Understand any potential additional charges up front so that you can plan and budget for those risks if necessary. 

Is this just a Bournes problem?

No, this is a global problem for every industry that involves shipping by sea, and every company in the International Removals and Shipping industry. Beware if a moving company tells you they have no problems securing containers and request more detail as to how they are avoiding these current challenges to ensure this is a valid claim. 

We want to help you plan your relocation in the least stressful way possible, and that means being realistic. We believe in being transparent with our customers and setting clear expectations to avoid surprise additional costs or unexpected delays further down the line and we hope our industry colleagues and competitors will also offer their customers the same courtesy.

Want to know more?

Please contact your Bournes representative if you have any further questions or concerns.



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