Will the Port of Liverpool’s proposed post-panamax berth lure market leader Maersk Line into the Mer


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11 Nov 2010

cargo_cv.jpgTHE panoramic view of the Mersey from Maersk Line UK & Ireland’s headquarters in a Liverpool tower block implies that the company is part of a great port.But there is just one important element missing: there are no Maersk Line ships to be seen.

All the more curious as the giant Danish company is the world’s largest
container shipping line with a global network of routes and schedules.

It does huge business in the UK and there are constant movements of its vessels in and out of the British Isles.

But for historic reasons Liverpool has until now been deemed to be on
the “wrong side” of the country by the east coast-oriented company.

Maersk Line prefers to serve Merseyside using its land routes with a 50/50 split between rail and road transport.

Maersk ships call at Felixstowe, Southampton, Tilbury (Thames), Thamesport (Medway), Dublin, Belfast and Grangemouth (Forth).

Felixstowe is the shipping line’s most important base for imports. It
runs five or six scheduled container trains a day from the Suffolk port
to Stobart’s Mersey Multimodal Gateway scheme (3MG) in Widnes.

However there is now a chance this trade could switch back to the sea if
new in-river quaysides are built on the Mersey. Peel Ports Mersey has
now doubled the scale of its initial proposals for its post-panamax
berth. Sited at Seaforth, the new facility could take much larger ships
than presently use the river.

This large, two-ship river berth would allow the new generation of jumbo containers ships to dock in Liverpool.

The plans were put on hold due to the downturn in world trade in recent
years, but the hope now is to open the terminal in 2014, concurrently
with the reopening of the widened Panama Canal.

“With a post-panamax Liverpool berth we would certainly review our
network of UK ports,” said Annemette Jepsen, senior director, cluster
manager, UK and Ireland, who is based in Liverpool.

“Liverpool is opening itself up to being a candidate for consideration by Maersk Line.

“But it depends on the opportunities. Liverpool is a good place with a good infrastructure.

“Port reviews are part of what we do all the time.”

Maersk Line, which handles about 1m containers in the UK annually, has
the biggest rail network of any container shipping company with 50% of
its inland UK movements by train.

“We have considered using west coast UK ports in the past, but currently
our policy is to do as many moves as we can by rail or other services,”
said Ms Jepsen.

“Feeders are a cost-efficient operation from our existing port calls and rail is environmentally friendly.”

The Panama Canal widening will allow much larger container ships than at
present to use the Panama Canal on the main transpacific –
transatlantic trade routes from the Far East.

To remain competitive, Peel Ports Mersey (PPM) expanded its plans for the new river post-panamax terminal.

It is now aiming at 1m teu (twenty foot equivalent-sized container) annually, instead of the original 600,000 teu figure.

This means the proposed terminal must be able to berth two 13,000 teu container ships simultaneously.

Crucially, these berths will be outside the Liverpool dock system, so ships will not be constrained by lock sizes.

Work on the £200m-£250m post-panamax berth is likely to start next year and finish by 2014, for the canal reopening.

Port of Liverpool does not expect continuous calls by the jumbo
container ships, as 7,000 teu vessels will be the regular visitors.

Gary Hodgson, PPM managing director, said the post-panamax berth was “future-proofing” for the capability of bigger ships.

“Because of the move to handle larger vessels, we have added more quay cranes into the business case,” said Mr Hodgson.

“So we can get a faster turnaround of vessels and therefore the capacity of the terminal increases.

“That is why the number has gone up to 1m teu.

“The next steps are to finalise our business case and develop our marketing material to get a consistent message.

“Then we can talk to the shipping lines about the option of using our terminal.

“And then we start talking to external funders. I think we are getting to a point where people will want to be a part of this.”

Maersk Line UK has had a rocky ride since its much-trumpeted arrival in Liverpool in February 2009.

Its Liverpool headquarters transferred from London with help from the
Northwest Development Agency, The Mersey Partnership and Liverpool

Maersk said at the time it employed 110 staff at its Old Hall Street
office in The Plaza and added that the move was likely to “create about
70 top-level jobs.”

Earlier this year Maersk Line was scheduled to cut 22 jobs in Liverpool
and the present workforce based here is around 120 people.

Maersk’s London office remains open to operate various non-UK functions.

Its Southampton office was closed and jobs were relocated to Liverpool and Felixstowe.

Six offices remain and the Liverpool head quarters now houses sales,
trade, export customer service, human resources, finance and process

Maersk Line’s owners, AP Moller - Maersk Group also has other UK offices.

“We saw a general down-scaling of our operation,” said Ms Jepsen.

“But we have no plans to move from Liverpool, We are very happy here.

“Liverpool has a good maritime community and support which were reasons for coming here.

“There are good universities from which to recruit the right people for us.

“We’re not the only shipping company which has decided this is a good place to be.”

However, the container shipping business last year “was a disaster” she said.

“It’s been a rollercoaster; 2008 was not a good year and 2009 was a disaster, but a recovery has been anticipated for 2010.”

Confirmation comes from reports that AP Moller Maersk, later today will
report a net profit of $4.06bn (21.4bn Danish crowns) for the first nine
months of 2010 (see panel).

“The recovery’s speed was unforeseen. With the volumes in November 2009,
we had not predicted the upturn,” said Ms Jepsen. “There was so much
capacity in the market that we had huge losses and had to take six ships
out of service, so there was no getting the volumes away when they came

“But 2008 was not as good as it could have been and profitability was lower than average.

“We researched this and it led to long-term changes and enhanced our
cost focus to make sure we had the right organisation, which was not
bigger than it had to be.

“We needed to get our competitive position back and that got us a head-start.

“I’m not sure whether we were smart or lucky, but we have regained our competitive position in the market.

“There were too many layers and too many people which could be counterproductive in cost and efficiency.

“In 2009 our volumes dropped by 10% and our rates by 30% and the container industry lost $20m.

“The rate fluctuations make it difficult to plan and invest. We’re
trying to find ways of stabilising rates at a reasonable level for
longer term.”

Source: Liverpool Daily Post

Sources:  www.Shipid.com

Maersk Line is one of the leading liner shipping companies in the world, serving customers all over the globe.

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