A vital role

Owned by Associated British Ports (ABP), the UK’s largest port company, the port of Southampton plays a vital role in the regional economy and the UK’s maritime environment as a whole. At approximately 725 acres, the port offers a sheltered location, the best rail and road distribution links to the Midlands and is the only port in the country to build multi-storey car parks, with its fourth opened recently and a fifth being built for September. Proud to offer high quality service and productivity, it is the most efficient container terminal in the UK and was recently announced as the leading port in Europe for turnaround cruises. Despite its major successes, the port is keen to retain its reputation for setting the standards, with ABP and joint venture partner DP World Southampton launching a £150 million investment project to ensure the port can meet future demand.

“The port of Southampton is most famous for the three Cs, cruises, cars and containers. We have long been the leading cruise port in the UK and it was announced in July 2013 that we are now the leading port in Europe for turnaround cruises. We are also number one for cars and estimate 750,000 vehicle movements this year, which is up around 50 per cent from what it was two years ago,” enthuses Doug Morrison, director at the port of Southampton. “We have enjoyed amazing growth and the main reason for this is that we are the first and last deep sea port of call in Northern Europe, with the growth coming from emerging markets in the Far East. We are also the second largest container terminal in the UK, but we aim to be number one for efficiency, the same as we are for cruise and cars.”

Already able to take on the largest container ships in the world, ABP’s strategic investment plan centres around the merger of berths 201/202 on the Western Dock’s container terminal to create a new berth, the SCT 5. This development will allow the container terminal the ability to service four of the next generation ultra large container carriers (ULCCs) at the same time. Predicted to account for over 50 per cent of the world’s container fleet capacity by 2015, the ULCCs need the high levels of productivity and short turnaround times that Southampton port already offers. “Ships are getting bigger, whether it is car ships, cruise ships or container ships, vessels are growing. This is why we are building for the future, not just for today,” says Doug. Furthermore, the new berth is a key part of ABP’s ambitions to increase handling capacity up to 2.7 million TEU a year. With work due for completion in December 2013, the berth will be fully operational by January 2014.

The £150 million project comprises of a range of elements, such as deepening works, gantry cranes and dredging. Despite challenges related to deepening the berth pocket to a minimum of 16 metres, works at the port are currently still on time and on budget, with dredging of the Channel adjacent to the Mayflower terminal recently completed. ABP is now looking to begin dredging the approach channel in Autumn 2013, following approval from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to improve marine access to the port. “Dredging at the Mayflower terminal, which was undertaken to widen a particular bridge point in the port by 30 metres, was completed a few months ago. We are now beginning work off the Isle of Wight to the Nab Channel following the approval from the MMO, but because our in-house dredger is too small to operate in the main channel we are out to tender and will award the contract in August 2013,” says Doug.

Although the port benefits from a unique double tide that ensures wide access for shipping, requirements for deeper drafted vessels to call at its facilities has caused access limitations. The work will involve the main navigational channel being deepened from its current minimum depth of 12.6 metres; the channel will also be widened to 100 metres in certain areas to reduce congestion as vessels pass each other as they approach or exit the port. The dredging works will also result in safety and navigation improvements and aid in the security of 12,000 existing port-related jobs by ensuring the port remains viable and competitive. “The dredging is for when the economy has recovered and ships are coming back fully laden,” says Doug. “At the moment I don’t see the dredge causing any issues in the foreseeable future, what with the volume of ships not yet where I would like it to be.”

Dedicated to continuous investment, the port of Southampton will remain focused on cruising, cars and containers, as Doug concludes: “In relation to the container business, we are the best located and most efficient and we need to make sure we are on par with our competitors as far as marine access is concerned. We are number one in Europe for cruises, and number one in the UK for cars and efficiency and will continue to invest further to stay number one. We aim to invest in the longer term too and are currently evaluating the building of a fifth cruise terminal as we anticipate in excess of 1.6 million passengers by the end of 2013. On top of this, we are always looking to expand our acreage in the port and that will continue to happen.”

Port of Southampton
£150 million redevelopment of container terminal
Berths 201/202 being merged to create SCT 5
SCT5 will be able to service four ULCCs simultaneously