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WALES\\\ Swansea: still heaving the coal

The chemical industry kept Swansea busy up to the 1990s, but since the rundown of the sector, the port has had to find other niches to exploit. One surprising comeback has been the drydock, which has gone back into operation for both ship repair and also ship recycling – one of the very few such facilities in the UK, or even Europe. Coal has also been doing

surprisingly well. While it has become a pariah fuel because of its high carbon content, it does

have other uses in electronics, and especially the high- anthracite stuff found in the nearby Neath valley. Another big trade is woodpulp,

brought in by breakbulk ships from as far afield as South America, for the two large tissue manufacturers in the district, at Maesteg and Baglan. Swansea

also has a fully-

functioning ro ro terminal, currently disused since the demise of Swansea-Cork Ferries a couple of years ago. ABP is

in talks to try and get another service running again and it is a big priority for the two local authorities on either side of the Irish Sea, particularly Cork whose tourist trade is feeling the effects of the withdrawal of the service. Recycling is also keeping busy,

Swansea with a large

amount of solid recovered fuel derived from otherwise non- recyclable household waste. Fertiliser and aggregates flows are also significant.

General cargo keeps Newport going

Newport was built at about the same time as the Panama canal and, naturally, its designers built the locks to the same width as the new waterway on the other side of the Atlantic. But then, the canal’s designers decided to add 2.5 metres of extra width. It was too late for Newport to alter its lock design by then, and the maximum size of ship that the South Wales port can accept, of around 40,000dwt, has been tantalisingly below the ‘Panamax’ size for the past century or so. There have been schemes over the years to widen the locks (impractical without closing the port while the work was carried out) or building a new, wider lock (prohibitively expensive). No matter, the current

maximum ship size is more than adequate for most of the trades that Newport is involved in, and it is in fact the largest general cargo

port in Wales. Traffic includes imported coal for the local electricity generators. The nearby Aberthaw power station, 15 miles to the west, has spent a great deal of money on upgrading, although the other major station in the area, Uskmouth is set to close. Steel, particularly imports, is

the other big earner for Newport and it is in fact the second largest port for this commodity in the UK. WE Dowds, one if the leading importers, is a major customer. Another major metal trades

customer is Simms Metal Management, which operates a big scrap terminal. Feed, fertilizer and grain imports, aggregates for a local cement terminal and forest products like timber and plywood are also important. Exports of recycled woodchips to Sweden have grown massively. Newport also has a couple of interesting niche trades. For

example, it is the UK’s biggest

importer of telegraph poles and there is a dockside preparation and creosoting facility. New railway locomotives are

another niche. The rail system goes straight onto the quay, so the new locos imported by rail freight operators from North America can be unloaded from the ship and effectively join the British railway system in the port. Another of Newport’s trades is

literally a money-maker – coils of alloy metal destined for the Royal Mint to be chopped up and turned into silver coins.

From North to South for Gwynedd Shipping

There can be few freight companies with a more Welsh- sounding name than Gwynedd Shipping, though these days more of the company’s business is UK and Ireland wide rather than the north-west corner of the country. Gwynedd Shipping’s head office remains in the Anglesey port town of Holyhead, although its largest depot in terms of headcount is now Newport in South Wales. It also maintains operations at the strategically important Deeside which supports several local clients and the ports of Liverpool and Birkenhead. Steel is an important part of

Gwynedd Shipping’s business, accounting for half the 4,000 loads

a month the company moves; the remainder is traffic between the UK and Ireland, which can be anything and everything, says managing director, Andrew Kinsella, although steel is also an important component of this trade. In total, Gwynedd Shipping runs 550 trailers including curtainsiders, flatbeds, steel coil carriers and a number of more specialist units. The company has had its fair

share of challenges through the recession, although the business has changed markedly, Kinsella continues. Traffic through Holyhead has shrunk, partly because of the closure of the nearby Anglesey Aluminium

works, while domestic UK business has blossomed since 2011. “We are still using Holyhead, but

it is now our smallest route, while the Mersey routes operated by Seatruck to Dublin and Stena Line to Belfast are our biggest,” Kinsella explains. However, plans to set up a biomass plant on the site of the old aluminium works and the Wylfa B nuclear power scheme could revive the company’s North Wales business, he believes. There are also some signs of recovery in the Irish market. “We’ve been through some challenging times, and business is still quite tough. But we’re optimistic for the future,” he says.

Issue 5 2014 - Freight Business Journal

Port Talbot: Big in bulk, but is there potential for boxes too?

Port Talbot is the largest of ABP’s five South Wales ports, in volume terms, but it is dominated by Tata Steel. The port is an import hub for the complex of steelworks in and around the area and the port imports around 8-10 million tonnes of raw material – although most of the finished product goes out by train. There is though an ancillary export trade in slag, for the cement industry. It is in fact one of only three

UK ports capable of handling capesize vessels of 170,000dwt “so it’s an asset of national significance for Wales and the rest of the UK,” says ABP South Wales director, Matthew Kennerley. But

while Port Talbot

concentrates on the bulk shipping sector at the moment, if – and it is only an if at this stage – a plan emerges to develop new container capacity on the west side of the UK, Port Talbot would

be one of the most cost-effective potential candidates. The marine infrastructure to handle large ships is already in place in Port Talbot so the capital cost of developing a large container port might only be £50-100 million as against £300m or so in other places. Kennerley says: “As part of

our regional growth strategy we would like to develop additional deep sea capacity at Port Talbot which would

increase our

capability for handling large vessels and allow us to handle a whole range of general cargo and potentially even containers should the market require. This development is something that the Welsh government has a keen interest in due to the potential benefits to the local and wider economy.” Triple E ships at Port Talbot are a fairly unlikely scenario,


but there could be potential for larger container ships than can currently be handled in existing Welsh ports if, for example, a shipping line looks to set up a ‘super feeder’ service to the west coast of Britain. Certainly, the Welsh Government is keen to see a major freight hub develop somewhere in Wales. However, ABP would want to be confident that any plan would deliver long- term returns. Maybe the market isn’t there

at the moment, but the container shipping market is in a state of flux and it might shiſt in favour of ports away from the major established hubs. Moreover, Port Talbot would be ideally positioned to service the trade from North America, and with Brussels poised to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US, that could be a growing trade for the future.

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