Future-proofed

Strategic infrastructure developments have marked Solent Stevedores’ activities in the past 12 months. The award-winning company, whose expertise lies in bulk and cargo handling and storage services, as well as cruise vessel support, has recently completed two major projects. These are expected to strengthen its position in the marketplace and allow it to take advantage of ongoing market trends.

The investment in the rail terminal at the Port of Southampton was almost £5 million, with the objective of improving the efficiency and the productivity of the container handling services offered. “Effectively, we managed to slash the times of loading and discharging containers by about 50 per cent to streamline the transferring of approximately 60,000 import and export containers between our terminal and the DP World Container Terminal here in the Port of Southampton,” comments Solent’s Chief Operating Officer, Ian Jacobs.

The £2.4 million joint project between the company and Associated British Ports, saw the upgrade to the infrastructure of the facility which was further complemented by an investment of over £2 million in two new state-of-the-art Kalmar Reach Stackers and a fleet of tugs & trailers, which gave Solent the flexibility to load and discharge containers directly to and from the trains and shunt efficiently to the DP World Container Terminal. In an industry first, the upgrade also included the construction of a raised platform extending out from the yard to the rail lines, resulting in a completely level surface on which to operate. “The good news is that we are not going to stop here and will continue to develop the terminal. We have already reached an agreement with Associated British Ports to upgrade the facility further in a way that will allow us to welcome longer trains, which, of course, means that our clients will be able to load an increased number of containers on a train, leading to better economies of scale,” Ian explains.

Referring to the current market conditions, he is confident that a trend is being set towards having more goods transported by rail to key distribution points. “The latest legislation and policies will lead to a shift in transportation modes, resulting in getting more lorries off the road and increasing the role of intermodal services by rail. Moving containers by trains, and not by trucks, has numerous advantages, such as lower fuel costs and stronger environmental credentials, which, with all the clean air initiatives being high on central government agendas, has become a crucial consideration for everyone in business. Taking all these factors into account, we can rightfully identify the railway services market as one with an untapped potential that offers multiple opportunities for us to explore.”

In the second key development activity for Solent in the past year, the company opened a new empty container handling yard at DP World London Gateway. “We worked alongside DP World to engineer a completely new site, specified to our operational requirements. Prior to opening the facility, we ordered new equipment, appointed staff, and trained them on the machines. It was quite a challenge for us, firstly, because we had no previous experience in this area; and secondly, because we had to put everything in place and prepare ourselves while the site was still being built, so that we could start operating efficiently from day one,” Ian discusses.

With ever increasing regulation and compliance becoming commonplace in the industry, the company has strengthened its compliance team with a new member of staff to help support Group Operations and facilitate customer experience, thus helping the business to stay ahead of potential changes in the business climate.

The launch of the London Gateway facility builds on Solent’s ability to provide nationwide storage services. The business already offers a broad range of storage services at the Port of Southampton, the Port of St Helier, and the Port of Immingham. Encouraged by the fast growth of London Gateway, the company has stated its aspirations to make the new facility central to its customers’ future plans, benefitting from the excellent connectivity the Port provides, which allows access to and from the world’s major economic centres.

Solent has also been actively involved in the cruise vessel support field and Ian observes that this side of the business has seen a steady growth over a number of years, last year was no exception. “We have been entrusted with providing more services recently and as it stands now, we handle 86 per cent of all cruise ships that come into the Port of Southampton, which will equate to 429 vessels in 2018.”

Well-versed in providing baggage handling, stores handling, and other support services, the company is expected to deal with a total of 1.8 million passengers and approximately 2.7 million suitcases, and load in excess of 100,000 tonnes of ship’s stores, relying on the full range of equipment available at its disposal. Owing to the wide range of services Solent has integrated into its offering, the provider has created an impressive portfolio of prestigious clients, including operators such as Cunard, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Saga Cruises, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, and MSC.

In January this year, it was announced that Solent had signed a new term agreement with Saga Cruises to provide full in-port stevedoring and turnaround services to the operator’s vessels calling at the Port of Southampton. Just a few months later, another contract was extended with MSC Cruises, until 2019, where Solent will supply mooring and baggage handling services to MSC Magnifica. “We are also in the process of negotiating for longer term concessions with a number of clients at the moment,” Ian adds, once again emphasising the present buoyancy of the cruise market.

As far as the future is concerned, Solent is in advanced talks with several other clients that are projected to lead to the signing of more contracts for each type of the business’ services before 2018 is through. Ian clarifies: “We are in the final stages of renewing our agreement with DB Cargo to take care of the loading and unloading of containers and we are also looking to extend our relationship with GB STEVEDORESRail Freight with further services coming on stream imminently.

“We are also in negotiation with a new client which would involve the construction of a new operation on 3.5 acres of land at the Bulks Terminal. Solent will provide services upon completion. There are still certain challenges to the project, but we hope that construction will be underway within the next six months and if this is the case, we are planning to expand our crane fleet with a new 125 Tonne Harbour Mobile Crane as part of our commitment,” he concludes, shedding light on Solent’s intentions for the coming years.

Solent Stevedores
Completed a £5 million upgrade to its rail terminal at the Port of Southampton
Opened a new empty container handling yard at DP World London Gateway
Handles 86 per cent of all cruise ships that come into the Port of Southampton