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Southampton readies itself for the big ship era

[ September 27, 2012   //   ]

Southampton will have its new berth for large containerships by early 2014, the port’s owner and principal container operator said at a ceremony to mark the start of construction on 27 September. Representatives of Associated British Ports and terminal operator DP World watched an excavator ceremonially lift the first paving slabs at berths 201 and 202, along with invited guests, who included the city mayor, who worked on the same berth when the port handled its first containership back in 1972.

Together, ABP and DP World are investing £150 million in the project, which will see a 500-metre long quay constructed with five cranes and 16m depth alongside.

DP World Southampton managing director, Chris Lewis, said it had been “a long, long wait” for consent to start the work, without which the port would not be able to handle the new generation of 16,000teu containerships that are due to start taking to the water in numbers from around 2014 onwards. He told the gathering: “Having this new capability is vital and underscore’s Southampton as the first and last deepsea port of call in Europe for the Far East, with its sheltered location, first-class road and rail links to the Midlands and market-leading service and productivity. Southampton also has unique tides, which minimises berthing delays for ships.

The consent process had been slowed by a judicial review of the process, which followed an objection by Hutchison, which owns the rival port of Felixstowe, and the process had been slowed further by a change in responsibily at government level, Chris Lewis told FBJ. In all, the start of the project had been delayed by about 12 months, but the port would still be ready just in time for the expected deployment of larger container vessels by DP World’s customers. These ultra large container carriers are expected to account for half the world container fleet by 2015, he pointed out.

The significance of the new berth is that it will be able to handle two of the new generation of ships simultaneously, giving Southampton the flexibility to cope with its customers’ future requirements.

Chris Lewis said that the judicial review of the application, though legally valid, was “frustrating” especially as it hinged on an objection from a port over a hundred miles away.

At the opening ceremony, Rob Coupe, managing director of the contractors VolkerStein revealed that production of some of the key prefabricated parts had already started, so the project is effectively under way. The scheme involves extending an existing quay face and then back-filling behind it.

The one remaining piece of the jigsaw is getting permission to dredge the channel, work which it is hoped will start next year.

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