With commercial wharves and waterside industries being squeezed out of existence in the UK it is encouraging to hear that one site has been saved from development for use as a commercial maritime resource.

As mentioned in brief in last month’s MJ News, Falmouth Wharves, a strategically and historically important site with deep water berths on the Penryn River in Cornwall, has been bought by one of its tenants.

The new owners Keynvor MorLift (Cornish for Ocean Sealift) are a diversified marine contractor, providing barges, towage, salvage services, marine civil engineering and subsea installation for the offshore renewables sector, and vessel mobilisations. KML have started to refurbish the site to become their headquarters, with the creation of 39 new jobs, as well as safeguarding existing marine employment by making available some of the warehouses, office spaces and workshops to other complementary maritime businesses. The company's MD Diccon Rogers, who co-founded the business in 2008, says: "The new premises will be the nerve centre from where we will run all KML operations around the UK and farther away."

The site has been a commercial wharf since the early 18th century. Today it has a total quay frontage of 200 metres with a charted depth of 2m at chart datum at the all-tide section. A previous owner had been seeking permission to demolish the existing buildings and install a luxury hotel and apartments in this picturesque location.

The developers' plans were initially refused by the District Council, then Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee. After two planning appeals the scheme was rejected finally, with the planning authorities and National Planning Inspectorate convinced the specialist smallship and workboat sector was a valuable asset to the local economy. The purchase by KML was underwritten by a capital grant from the Cornwall Marine Capital Fund managed by Cornwall Marine Network and was supported by local MP Sarah Newton.

Longstanding tenants Sea-Wide Services, run by Brendan Rowe, have been at the Wharves for 27 years, providing dive support, salvage, mooring maintenance, ship-to-shore supplies and crew transfer, with a fleet of workboats and launches. Mr Rogers believes Sea-Wide's presence had a symbolic significance for the planners as they provide continuity with Falmouth’s long tradition of workboat and maritime services that complement larger operators such as near neighbours A&P. Fleet tenders for the Royal Navy have also operated from here for many years, originally by RMAS and later Serco Marine Services, with two vessels currently deployed in helicopter training.

KML have been tenants at Falmouth for only four years. Their registered office is at Appledore, and they occupy wharves at Instow and Par. Their current contracts range from the north of Scotland to the east coast of UK and as far west as the Isles of Scilly. Projects include a long-term contract with Rolls Royce Tidal Generation Ltd (now Alstom GE) trialling a sub sea tidal energy project in Orkney. KML and Sea-Wide recently collaborated to install the Seatricity Oceanus, the first ever Wave Energy device at the Wave Hub test site offshore North Cornwall. Construction projects include the delivery of armour stone from Boulogne to Slaughden, near Aldeburgh for sea defences on behalf of the Environment Agency.

KML operates a fleet of versatile vessels including two large US Army floating cranes that had lain dormant throughout the Cold War, and the subsea installation vessel Severn Sea, an ex-Swedish military ship extensively refitted in 1980 and now boasting twin tunnel thrusters, forward azimuthing waterjet thruster, high tidal flow DP with software developed in-house, three Hiab cranes, a free swimming Saab Seaeye Cougar ROV and other equipment developed with assistance from the Technology Strategy Board. They also operate several tugs, workboats and landing craft. One of the cranes based in the north of Scotland was used to salvage the fishing boat Louisa off the Hebridean Isle of Mingulay. The company provides its own in-house maintenance and engineering, as Mr Rogers explains: "specialist skill sets are required to maintain this level of kit."

Recent jobs include salvage and towage of the coaster Sea Breeze which was foundering off the Lizard in 2014. The Falmouth lifeboat took the crew off before KML and Sea-Wide stabilised and dewatered the vessel and brought it safely into Fowey. In 2015 the floating crane BD 6074 was used to recover a sunken trawler which went down near the Eddystone Lighthouse, and to lift a broken crane boom which collapsed on the Maersk Weymouth while on a transatlantic passage. Diccon Rogers says the coaster incident was one of several events that highlight the vulnerability of smaller vessels around the UK coast, especially following the withdrawal of the ETVs.

Mr Rogers is proud that his company's efforts have helped prevent wreck and pollution. "There are not many flexible salvage companies ready to take on those jobs in the nick of time," he says. "Every asset in the Sea Breeze operation came from the Falmouth Wharves’ base; the tug, divers, pumps, support craft and equipment were supplied by KML and Sea-Wide Services on an emergency basis."

The origin of Falmouth Wharves dates back to 1728 when Boyers Cellars were built to store fish and cargo. During the 1930s the wharf was extended out into the channel for Coastlines Shipping, a short-sea operator handling perishables, general cargo and later petroleum products. Military activity in WW2 reportedly included the stripping and preparation of the destroyer HMS Campbeltown, used to ram the dock gates during the raid on St Nazaire which became known as one of the greatest naval campaigns of the war.

By Graeme Ewens