The United Kingdom has one of the oldest and diverse merchant fleets dating back to the 15th century. Its cargo shipping started in the 17th century, including colonial partners. As a result, most of the ports across the United Kingdom have vast experience in overseeing evolving technology and changes.
The term “Merchant Navy” is a historical tribute to the lost English fleet of the First World War. The merchant fleet of the United Kingdom stands at 24 ranks in the world.
95% of the UK’s cargo movement and transportation comes from the shipping industry. In 2019, the total cargo movement was worth 475.34 million MT through sea-going ships. Almost 65% of this comes from the incoming bulk traffic, containers, and liquid cargo nature.
Among them, Grimsby & Immingham, London, and Milford Haven have the highest cargo share. Recent figures also reflect a crude oil handling worth 85.5 MT. Around the same time frame, other oil products trading accounts for 76 million MT.
A total of 45% of the total shipping trade of the UK takes place with its neighbouring countries throughout Europe. However, the highest point of UK cargo handling occurred in 2008, before the cargo trade slowdown.
The 2019 and 2020 figures from almost all the ports in the UK show a +0.8% rise in trade flow.
Let us look into the strategic ports of the United Kingdom.
Table of Contents
Port of Immingham
In terms of tonnage, Immingham is the largest cargo port in the UK. It combines with large Grimsby and other small facilities to form a port complex. The other two names in the union are Hull and Goole, and the complex falls under the authority of Associated British Ports. The construction of this port started in the early 1900’s era. However, primary cargo operations date back to 1957. Immingham’s harbour alone spreads across an area over 55.2 ha.
The port of Immingham is the only port in the UK to cross 50 million MT cargo handling continuously. In 2019, Immingham’s figure reflected 54 million MT. 74% of this figure came from import trades at the port. However, stats from 2020 show a decline with overall cargo operations of 48 million MT. Liquid bulk cargo makes almost 70% of Immingham’s total trade. Immingham combines with London to stand as the two biggest Oil Cargo ports in the UK.
Network and Layout
Immingham connects directly with the major parts across European Union, Asia, Africa, and America. Almost 10,500 job opportunities arise within the ABP progressive port complex. The draught ranges from 14.5 to 17.5 meters for vessels going alongside. The facility leads with 240 freight movement through rail and loco services every week.
Port of Felixstowe
Felixstowe features in the top 10 busiest European port facilities at the 9th position. The port shares most of its container handling duties (48%) amongst all the ports in the UK.
It spreads across 33.83 sq. km and has a total of 10 berths for container operations. The harbour originated in the late 1700s, while the facility is in existence since 1875.
The early operations at Felixstowe port were pipeline and railway pier transport records. Commercial cargo operations and breakthrough container handling started in the late 1960s.
Container operations at Felixstowe recorded an average of 3.8 million TEU for the past five years. Meanwhile, the figures from 2020 reflect 25.8 million MT cargo volumes with 65% of the inward flow. It shows that Felixstowe port is the pivot of major inbound finished goods trading for the UK.
There are a total of 22 movable gantries with a tire design for mobile lifting. The mega cranes at these berths have the largest capacity globally, lifting over 70 MT at once. Each crane has a maximum outward reach of 62 meters and a weight of approximately 2000MT.
Network and Layout
The human network at Felixstowe features over 3500 employees with an additional 2500 for internal handling. Over 11,000 meters of railway length and three terminals feature 72 rail calls per day.
The facility is also amongst the few in the UK to try 5G connections for security and surveillance matters. It is also one of the few harbours to have the super container vessels traffic inflow.
Port of Tees
The port of Tees spreads across an area of 490 acres, handling a large portion of inland traffic. This facility on the River Tees bank is the third biggest amongst the UK ports.
All primary cargo operations in this port started in 1965. Tees also appear in the list of busiest ports in the UK, with 6000 vessel arrivals every year.
It attracts an overall investment of 1 billion £ through PD ports in the last decade. The annual container handle figures of 50,000TEU on average, making Tees one of the most profitable UK ports.
The port facility uses a uni-feeder design for handling bulk cargo and ores. Such modern loading techniques enable Tees to handle over 56 million MT of cargo every year.
Dry bulk shares count for more than 73% of all port operations with additional steel, petroleum, and container goods. An average of 8.5 million MT of Iron ore arrives at Tees through the deep-sea bulk terminals.
An average draught of 17.5 meters allows the large VLOCs to undergo simultaneous handling. In addition, there are eight gantries and two container berths for handling more than a million MT of steel.
Network and Layout
Tees container terminal network divides into two nodes with lengths of 294 and 360 meters. The Dawson Wharf handles 400,000 MT of bulk goods, while the ro-ro facility handles 100,000 vehicles. In addition, the network handles significant incoming ro-ro vessel traffic from the North Sea.
Port of London
The establishment of London port occurred during the 1st century as the most important trading port. The modern shipping trades in this port originated in the mid-1800s. London stands as the second biggest port facility in the UK behind Immingham in terms of tonnage. The port’s geographical location on the Bank of Thames invites high sea-going traffic through the North Sea. As the highest contributor, the port’s annual turnover is 4 billion £ over the last decade.
London is amongst the two ports in the UK to handle 54 million MT of cargo in 2019. The trade graph has a 4% decline for the port’s cargo in 2020. There are a total of 30 berths available for sea-going vessels of all sizes. Meanwhile, the average draught for vessel traffic is 17.5 meters. London Port’s 82% trade belongs to the inward flow of dry bulk, liquid cargo, and container vessels. The maximum quay length ranges around 655 meters with an average depth of 15.5 meters.
Network and Layout
The inland water network leading to the port amounts to 60% of vessel traffic within the region. The port facility employs over 45,000 staff that works for surveillance, cargo operations, and handling. It also allows passage to the national freight handling rail network.
Port of Liverpool
The Port of Liverpool holds 43 docks with interconnection facilities within itself. This facility spreads across an area of 12 kilometres and divides itself into Liverpool port1 and port 2.
Royal Seaforth Container Terminal is the name for Liverpool 1 and is the oldest container terminal in the UK. While Liverpool 1 start dates back to the early 1700s, Liverpool 2 is a new investment prospect.
The Peel Ports investment of 400 million £ is to make this facility the largest container terminal globally. Liverpool 1 is also the first commercial dock having an enclosed design for operation.
The Liverpool port presently handles over 75,000 TEU with 60 or more sea-going arrivals. An overall tonnage of 34 million MT consists of 75% inward movement of container goods.
The terminal added 22 mega CRMG cranes for handling the most significant vessels and additional 30 existing cranes with a maximum container capacity of 45MT that operates round the clock.
A total of 30 berths with a maximum of 11.6 meters draught are available throughout the terminal. In addition, it has a giant floating crane amongst the critical ports in the UK with 250 MT capacities.
Network and Layout
The Merseyside facility has over 150 km of rail services for cargo handling and transport, with the cruise network of the terminal directing stoppages for passenger embarkation. The Liverpool 2 project has broader and deeper sea lines for being the most significant UK operators.
Port of Milford Haven
The port of Milford Haven has a renewable energy working concept at the heart of operations. It is the first port facility in the UK to pledge to the green port work standards.
Its working records reflect establishment dates from 1790 onwards. However, cargo operations of commercial date back to the early 1900s.
The facility happens to be the biggest Welsh harbour for commercial shipping operations. An annual turnover of £28.1m also makes Milford Haven one of the profitable commercial ports in the UK.
Milford Haven port has 21 berths with an average depth of 15.5 and a maximum depth of 22 meters. The LNG operations take place at Dragon and South hook terminals exclusively.
This facility handles an average of 34 million MT of cargo and ranks third in the UK in terms of tonnage. Moreover, 31.9% of these operations are outward, contributing hugely to the Welsh economy.
As of 2020, 85% of gas consumption in Wales comes through the Milford Haven port. The bulk cargo handling operates with the monopile platform structure and 7000TE modular basket.
Network and Layout
A total of 195 employees for port operations are available round the year. This facility relies majorly on automation and camera viewing for fast operation rates. The layout has a maximum quay length of 65 meters.
Port of Southampton
The port of Southampton is another big name in the active list of Associated British Ports. This modern facility has been in existence for the past 51 years for passenger and cargo operations.
The annual traffic of 500 to 650 cruise vessels with 2 million passengers crosses the port of Southampton. The port’s cargo operations yield £4.5 million while the passenger terminals achieve £2.0 million annually.
Amongst the 21 small and big ports in the UK under ABP operation, Southampton ranks 7th financially.
Southampton port has an annual cargo handling in the range of 33 to 35 million MT on average. The port is also one of the biggest exporters in the UK, with an outward flow of 36 to 40%.
Additionally, it is the top port in the UK for automobile handling with 900,000 units annually and a maximum quay length for sea-going vessels at 290 meters and an alongside draught of 14.6 meters.
Cargo operations take place across five central berths and 45 total berths of variable size. Ranking second in the container handling capacity within the UK, the port handles 1.9 million TEUs yearly.
Network and Layout
More than 45000 employees work collectively for passenger and cargo terminals. It includes traffic, network, cargo, and safety operation personnel. The layout of this port spreads over 585 acres, including the Western docks. It allows four simultaneous container vessel handling operations for efficient work practices.
Diverse Shipping Portfolio of the United Kingdom
The ports in the UK share 55% of their traffic within the European region for cargo transport. China, Africa, and the US come next in with direct sea routes leading to 40% of merchant goods shipping. In addition, important routes through the English Channel and the Suez are pillars for the UK’s shipping pyramid. Hence, a broad view of the UK’s economy underlines the economic importance of these important ports.
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