Cruising ahead

Since being featured in Shipping and Marine in 2011, Solent Stevedores has achieved great success in its performance and contracts. Formed in 2000, the company specialises in stevedoring services, with cruise ships a focal part of its business. It provides baggage and stores handling services to more than 270 cruise ships and 800,000 passengers a year in the port of Southampton. In August 2012, after the liquidation of George Troy and Sons, the business tendered for the Port of Jersey stevedoring license, beating 14 other competitors tendering from countries as far as Italy and Ireland. It was the solid and reliable reputation Solent Stevedores has developed in its 12 years of existence that gained it the nine year contract, which involves being responsible for the handling of 98 per cent of goods coming in and out of the island via its Elizabeth Harbour and the New North Quay.

With so much competition for the contract, Ian Jacobs, managing director at Solent Stevedores, believes it was the company’s integrity and vision that caused it to stand out. “The key to our success was our transparency regarding numbers to the Port of Jersey. We explained how we source the costs of each job and that there needed to be a lot of investment in terms of maintenance and repairs on aging equipment. We plan to invest just around £1 million pounds over the next seven to eight years,” he says. Approximately £150,000 has been spent on equipment and £60,000 on maintenance, labour and parts so far.

Following its Jersey stevedoring license win, one of Solent Stevedore’s training managers spent five months on the island working alongside the 20 local employees that were taken on after the previous firm went into liquidation. “The local staff worked for the previous employer; they know the job, they know the contacts in the industry over there and clearly we saw a lot of value in keeping local people involved and from a politically viewpoint too it was the right thing to do,” Ian explains. “We have provided the staff with an intensive training programme, new personal protective equipment and new terms and conditions, which are more generous than those previously held.” The contract has been absorbed into the company smoothly, and could lead to future developments in the Channel Islands.

The catalyst behind the company’s accelerated growth is its 20 year agreement with Associated British Ports, the operators and owners of Southampton Docks, to expand the existing bulk terminal, containing 107 ukto 109 berths, into the redundant King George V Dry Dock. The deal included a multi-million capital investment programme to improve surfacing and also the purchase of two high capacity mobile cranes, along with other specialist equipment, to ensure the two companies remain the first choice for one off and regular shipments of dry bulk to and from the UK. The company handles animal feed, recycled metal and glass, grain, fertiliser, gypsum, animal feed and wood chip, while its Silvertown operation on the River Thames unloads up to 01.2 million tonnes of raw cane sugar for Tate and Lyle per year. The company now employs 100 people and has assets of £2.4 million, consisting of buildings, vehicles, plant and machinery.

Solent Stevedores saw performance double in the past 12 months, with 1386 vessels handled in 2012, an increase from 691 in 2011. It has also seen a significant increase in the number of vessels handled, which is due to the Port of Jersey stevedoring contract. “Jersey can quite easily have three vessels a day, which has contributed to the massive doubling of vessels handled by us,” says Ian. While this area of the business enjoyed great success, the bulks market remained relatively static after extreme weather conditions had an adverse effect on the harvest. However, the recyclable products, particularly woodchip, have increased considerably.

Looking ahead, Solent Stevedores has a clear vision of what it wants out of 2013 and for the future. Continually working on new opportunities in Southampton alongside ABP, the company is aiming for another major development. “The strategy of the business is to double in size over the next five years,” explains Ian. “We are always looking for other ways to become a more valuable tier one supplier to a number of our business partners, such as ABP and Tate and Lyle. We aim to give as much value as we can through our people to their business, to cement longer term relationships.” To aid this goal the company is focusing on developing its management team in 2013, enabling them to take on different roles confidently as the business expands. It is also anticipating more contracts in the cruise business, as Ian points out: “Strategically the Jersey contract is a good avenue for us as a very large percentage of cargo and goods move by sea over any other means. We see this opportunity as a platform to hopefully develop other stevedoring services in the Channel Islands over the next few years.”

Solent Stevedores
Awarded the stevedoring licence from The Port of Jersey
Performance in 2012 doubled over previous
Rapid expansion over the past two years