Wednesday, September 28, 2011

UK's Leading Container Freight Port Celebrates Anniversary With Royal Visit

Felixstowe Racks Up 125 Years - and Two New Deepwater Berths
Shipping News Feature

UK – The country’s busiest container port which has a throughput exceeding 3 million TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) per annum and handles 40% of Britain’s imports, celebrated its 125th birthday today in Royal style. A visit from Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, to mark the occasion coincided with the formal opening of the two new deepwater berths capable of handling the latest generation of freight carriers.

The expansion of deepwater facilities is crucial if the Port of Felixstowe is to stay competitive with its continental rivals and newly planned ports such as DP World’s London Gateway project in the Thames Estuary. The new berths 8 and 9 are planned to accept the very largest of the latest vessels such as Maersk Line’s ‘Triple E’ class which can accommodate up to 18,000 TEU, a strategy that the managers of the Felixstowe facilities, Hutchison Ports, trust will help maintain it as one of the three European ports of choice for the industry leaders.  

Staff at Hutchison Ports were too tied up in the celebrations today to comment on the proceedings and several freight forwarders we spoke to abandoned their desks early to join in with the occasion but David Gledhill, Hutchison CEO, issued a statement prior to the event saying that without the development of the new facilities the cost of imports into the UK would inevitably rise with the necessity to tranship cargo from the larger European ports.

Earlier this month the port won the Rail Freight Group’s ‘Business of the Year’ Award for the second time in three years, in addition to the RFG Customer Care Award. The two new deepwater berths are said to be the latest stage in a £1 billion development programme to include a third new rail terminal in 2012 and the port has already invested in two new rail gantry cranes, this in addition to the seven ZPMC gantry cranes purchased to serve the new berths at a cost of over £40 million.

The latest gantry cranes are spectacular in their own right. Chinese built but with European control systems and layout they can span 24 container stacks, one more than even the Triple A’s can carry, and are the largest in the world. Fortunately they were installed without a repeat of the post hurricane accident in 2008 when a vessel carrying new cranes slewed into two which were already installed dockside.

Currently the two new berths are dredged to a depth of sixteen metres, but should the necessity arise, further excavation could deepen them a further two metres. Despite the current lack of trade in the container market the management at Felixstowe know that these developments are essential to remain competitive with the likes of Rotterdam and Bremerhaven who have made similar investments. Meanwhile staff celebrate the continuing prosperity of a port that has seen huge changes since its transition from fashionable Victorian seaside resort before the arrival of the first merchant vessel, the Craithie, into the newly dug dock basin in 1886.

Photo: Felixstowe long before the advent of container freight.