Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celebratory Half Century Year for Original UK Container Freight Terminal

Felixstowe at 50
Shipping News Feature
UK – Although the ubiquitous container is now a familiar sight, and indeed to many thought to be the only way to carry goods between countries, it was not always so. Before the metal boxes became the go-to method of securing and shipping cargo conventional cargo ships still raised and lowered nets full of every type of produce into and out of a vessels holds, worked on by men, often in semi darkness. Some who still work on these pages remember the first of the container terminals opening at the Port of Felixstowe in 1967 and now there is to be a year of celebration to mark the 50th anniversary.

New South Quay was the first dedicated container terminal opened in July 1967, initially with just 500 feet (152metres) of quayside and a single Paceco Vickers portainer crane, whilst all around it services continued carrying conventional cargoes in what was then a fairly insignificant port operation. The waters of the quayside however were deep enough for the container ships of the day and, with the blue touch paper well alight, the development of the container industry grew apace, despite dock strikes elsewhere and industry doubters and influences within the Dock Labour Board (DLB). A shortage of other work at the time in Suffolk meant a willing pool of staff, untainted by the often belligerent demands of dockers in areas such as London and Liverpool, were comparatively easy to find.

The DLB, originally formed at the end of the second World War after a particularly confrontational dispute, became an anachronism with the growth in trade and, despite efforts by the unions to maintain the rule that all containers were loaded within the confines of the terminals themselves, the genie was out of the bottle and the final blow for free trade struck during the Thatcher years when the DLB was abolished in 1989 and the relationship between shipper and container shipping line as we know it was confirmed.

A function in Felixstowe on December 12 entertaining customers of the Port started the year of celebration which was launched by Lawrence Yam, Commercial Director of the Port of Felixstowe and, in a speech Clemence Cheng, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Felixstowe and Managing Director of Hutchison Ports Europe, said:

“The Port of Felixstowe has come a long way over the last 50 years. From a single-berth operation with one crane we now have nine berths providing over 3,000 metres of deep-water container quay serviced by 33 ship-to-shore gantry cranes. The operation today bears no real resemblance to those early years. The scale and level of technical innovation have grown beyond recognition. But not everything has changed. Felixstowe was chosen in 1967 because of its proximity to the main shipping lanes and the main ports of Northern Europe. That remains a key differentiator but the position today has been improved by the development of road and rail links that are second to none.”