After more than a decade of planning and construction, the £1.5bn DP World London Gateway deep-sea port on the north bank of the Thames has welcomed its first scheduled vessel, the ‘MOL Caledon’ from South Africa.
The ‘MOL Caledon’ arrived at Berth 1 at around 11pm on Wednesday 6th November at low tide, a scenario not previously available in the Thames Estury for vessels of such a size.
London Gateway is located closer to major population centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester than other ports that are capable of handling the world’s biggest ships. DP World says the new port will reduce transport costs for exporters and importers by reducing millions of trucking miles from supply chains.
The port also provides 21st century infrastructure for shipping lines that are building bigger ships. DP World has developed London Gateway from scratch to accommodate the next generation of ships. Known as ‘ultra large container ships’ (ULCS), they are up to 400m long and can carry over 18,000 containers.
The first scheduled ship to dock at the port, operated by MOL Liner, received exports and delivered containers carrying a variety of cargo, including fruit and automotive parts, which will be distributed across the country over the coming days. The MOL Caledon is part of the South African Europe Container Service (SAECS) which is made up of a consortium of shipping lines including MOL, Maersk, DAL and Safmarine.
Guests invited to witness the historic event were able to inspect the progress made to the infrastructure serving London Gateway, with the new roundabout at the A13 junction now fully open and the new vehicle gate operational. A presentation was held in a new building 1 London Gateway - an impressive glass-clad facility at the entrance to the port.
Further progress could be seen at the site of Marks & Spencer's new 380,000 sq ft port-centric warehouse, where the retailer will be hoping to slash its 'ship-to-shelf' times from a current three weeks to just three days. Nearby lies the site of London Gateway's common-user facility (CUF), a warehouse designed to house smaller companies looking for a port presence but not yet able to commit capital to a permanent facility.
When asked about rumours that demand for space at the CUF has been running at two or three times the rate of available space, London Gateway CEO Simon Moore told SHD Logistics: "It's a very positive development. We've also seen a great demand for office accommodation. I wouldn't be surprised if we were to look at expanding the common-user facility."
The ‘MOL Caledon’ was welcomed by DP World chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, vice chairman Jamal Majid Bin Thaniah, group CEO Mohammed Sharaf, chairman of MOL Liner Junichiro Ikeda, and shipper representatives JFH Hillebrand MD David Mawer and Chingford Fruit MD Gavin McNally, together with other senior executives.
Junichiro Ikeda commented: “I’m delighted to be here on this historic day at the opening of DP World’s London Gateway. We believe that the new port through its modern facilities and convenient links to the business community, will provide us the perfect platform to continue the efficient and reliable services MOL is committed to offering its UK customers.
"The conditions at London Gateway, like draft and tides, also gives us the opportunity to grow further through the introduction of bigger ships and a further expansion of our network. It’s a promising new port for a great country.”
Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem said: “We are proud and pleased to be able to contribute to the UK economy by building and operating this state-of-the-art modern infrastructure that will support trade growth far into the future.
"This is the first port to be built in the UK in a generation, and so there is nothing else like this in the country. From today, shipping lines can now bring the world’s largest ships closer to key UK markets and reduce the costs of transportation. At the same time, global businesses can make their supply chains more efficient. It’s a real pleasure to be able to stand side by side with MOL on this historic day.”
Jamal Majid Bin Thaniah highlighted the importance of the logistics park adjacent to the port: “London Gateway’s logistics park is Europe’s largest, and will save companies hundreds of millions of pounds every year from business costs by removing a whole step in UK supply chains. Goods will move through the port and straight into the logistics park, then straight to shops and homes, rather than being sent first to inland warehouses.”
Mohammed Sharaf commented: “We are pleased to welcome one of our most important customers, MOL, as the first shipping line to call at London Gateway as part of the new consortium service routed through London Gateway. Bringing London Gateway to this point has been very much a partnership with all our stakeholders, including our customers, and I would particularly like to thank them, those involved in the port’s construction, government authorities, the community and our people who have worked tirelessly to realise this vision.”
Adrian Jones said: “This is an historic moment for both MOL and DP World London Gateway. The arrival of our first container vessel into the port marks the birth of a facility that is likely to play a critical part in the future of seaborne trade to and from the UK. The proximity of London Gateway to London and DP World’s plans to grow an extensive logistics park around the port, mean that this will be an attractive port for many customers – reducing costs in their supply chain.
Simon Moore added: “We are pleased to be able to start our first scheduled services today. It’s taken many years of hard work to achieve this milestone, delivered on time and on budget. It’s a huge day for the team here, but we remain focused on delivering what we set out to achieve, reduced supply chain costs and more reliability for importers and exporters.”
Leading importers and exporters from across the UK were in attendance at a ceremony held on the quayside whilst the ship was being loaded. Chingford Fruit, one of the largest importers of fresh fruit from South Africa, uses MOL’s services to the UK.
MD Gavin McNally, said: “We ship thousands of tonnes of fruit into the UK for some of the most demanding retailers. We are always exploring opportunities for improvements to our already high levels of efficiency and I believe that London Gateway has the potential to deliver that for us. Therefore it’s great news to see the first MOL ship dock at London Gateway.”
JF Hillebrand's David Mawer said: “We ship thousands of containers into the country every year and we ensure the goods are moved quickly and efficiently, as that’s what our customers need. We are pleased that London Gateway is now operational so that we can use world-class infrastructure to help us increase reliability and efficiency.”
The port is now operating with its first berth open. When fully developed, London Gateway will operate six berths, with a total of 24 quay cranes and will be able to handle 3.5 million TEU a year. Berth 2 is scheduled to open in April 2014. Simon Moore told SHD Logistics that Berth 3 will open "around 12 months after that."
Freight trains moved cargo from the 'MOR Caledon' to the midlands and further afield from London Gateway’s new rail terminal. Over 30% of the containers moving through the port are planned to go by rail. The state-of-the-art terminal can handle the longest trains in the UK. DB Schenker Rail UK and Freightliner are both providing rail services to the new port.
Thousands of new jobs have been created in the construction sector during the past 10 years at the site. According to a study by Oxford Economics, once fully operational, London Gateway will create 36,000 jobs - 12,000 directly and 24,000 indirectly - and contribute £3.2bn to UK GDP annually.