The first scheduled commercial vessel in two generations will dock at a major new London deep-water port next week.
At around 11pm on Wednesday night, the MOL Caledon, a 58,000-tonne container ship bearing fruit and wine from South Africa, will mark a turning-point in British trading history.
Sailing under the Liberian flag from Cape Town for Mitsui OSK Lines, it will become the first scheduled commercial vessel in two generations to dock at a major new London deep-water port.
For Simon Moore, chief executive of Dubai-owned DP World London Gateway, it will be another milestone in the development of three square miles of derelict former oil refinery land on the Thames.
The site is being transformed into London Gateway, a container port aiming to wrest traffic away from Felixstowe, Britain’s largest container port.
March saw the arrival of 137m-high quay cranes, the biggest cranes in the world; September saw the opening of the rail terminal; last Tuesday, the first container arrived at the site for onward shipping.
Wednesday will mark the operational opening of the port’s first berth. A second will open next April, with a third coming on stream by April 2015.
London Gateway claims to be the first new major deep-sea container port in Britain this century, while land next door is to be developed into a 9m sq ft logistics park that will be Europe’s largest.
Marks & Spencer announced this summer that it is to create 700 jobs at a new distribution centre on the park as part of a plan to move from 150 warehouses to three. Logistics group Uniserve has also announced its intention to take a base on the park.
“We have landmarks on a frequent basis,” says Mr Moore, who took over in 2005 when the site was an industrial wasteland teeming with wildlife and not a great deal else. “At our first Christmas party, there were just three of us there and one of them was my wife. This year, there will be 800 people.
“What we have on Wednesday is the first scheduled commercial ship arriving at London Gateway. That’s a very visual mark of our progress. It’s always been our target to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2013 and that’s what we’re doing, on schedule and on budget.”
It has taken £1.5bn of investment, funded with the help of £600m project finance, by DP World, which inherited the London Gateway site when it took over P&O Ports in 2005.
Mr Moore’s team had the task of steering the development through a planning inquiry and masterminding a build-out that has involved the relocation of 350,000 animals in the biggest movement of wildlife yet seen in Europe.
The dredging of 100km of estuary and the North Sea, meanwhile, has involved exploding 150 wartime bombs; more than a dozen wrecked ships and a German bomber have also been discovered.
Ten thousand construction jobs have been created, while the current 300-strong permanent workforce will increase to 450 next year and 2,000 on completion of the port, with another 10,000 expected on the logistics park. “What we’re doing is opening up the capacity for deep-water ships to call from Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Singapore,” says Mr Moore.
“We’re talking about the biggest ships in the world – 400m long and capable of carrying 18,000 containers. It’s those ships that we’ve built London Gateway for.
“London has been Britain’s national hub port since Roman times, but, as ships have got bigger, London has lost a lot of its port capability.
“London was the biggest port in the world until a generation ago, so in many ways we’re going back to our roots and bringing the biggest ships in the world as close as we can to the biggest points of consumption in the UK.
“About 90pc of Britain’s imports come by sea but we need deeper water, bigger berths and bigger cranes.”
London Gateway claims to have the lot. The quay cranes weigh nearly 2,000 tonnes each, are taller than the London Eye and cost about £9m a piece.
There are also 40 fully-automated stacking cranes, creating Britain’s first fully-automated container-stacking terminal.
The port has planning permission to build six berths and Mr Moore is confident of attracting traffic away from Felixstowe, the Suffolk port owned by Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa, which last year handled 42pc of total UK container traffic.
“The UK has a very mature supply chain,” he says. “The UK hasn’t had a new port in a new location for two generations.”
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance the UK’s capability. This will be an infrastructure asset of national importance that will hopefully retain trade, improve the cost effectiveness of the UK and hopefully attract new business and investment into the UK.
“Felixstowe and Southampton are the only two competitors and have only three deep-water berths between them.
“London Gateway will provide 24 key cranes and six deep-water berths, so we’re effectively doubling the UK’s capacity to take deep-water ships.”
With UK container traffic still below pre-recession levels, shipping lines expect a fierce battle between the two ports.
A study for London Gateway by shipping consultants Drewry claims that the new port can save shippers £59 per container to the Midlands and North West and £189 per container to London and the South East, potentially meaning hundreds of millions of pounds of supply-chain savings for retailers.
A second study estimates that the port and logistics park will save 148,000 tons of carbon dioxide from British supply chains per year, because of shorter journey times for 2,000 trucks per day.
However, Felixstowe hit back in August, publishing a report from consultants MDS Transmodal, claiming that it could handle containers for £26 apiece less than London Gateway.
Mr Moore is unperturbed. “London Gateway is the biggest logistics park in Europe,” he says. “It happens to incorporate a deep-water port and we happen to be 25 miles away from London and the South East. There’s nothing else, really, that can replicate that type of proposition.”
Source: The Telegraph
Source: The Telegraph