The Port of Marseille in the south of France has a number of projects under way that are aimed at keeping the port in the forefront of modern logistic requirements.

One plan is aimed at coping with the increased size of cruise ships, one to restart the port's ship repair capability and others to increase the facilities to handle various types of cargo and passengers.

For handling larger cruise ships such as the modern 6000 passenger ships the entrance to the Marseille Fos area of the port where the cruise terminal is located is being widened. Works on this Passe Nord entrance are nearing completion, in work that is costing almost €64 million to enable the entry of mega cruise ships.

Within this construction project, the Passe Nord entrance will be enlarged from the current 190 to 240 meters in width and this will also enhance the turning space available for manoeuvring the next generation of mega cruise ships. Along with this work the Drydock No. 10 which is the third largest in the world, will be brought back into operation after being closed for 18 years. This drydock which is located within the cruise terminal area will be able to handle this next generation of cruise ships as well as the largest tankers, bulk carried and container ships. At the same time the drydock is being used to construct the pre-cast concrete structures that will be used for the Passe Nord expansion work.

The drydock has been flooded for the first time since the construction work started in January 2014 to enable the flotation of a new 9,100-ton dock gate and three 4,500-ton caissons that will form the remodelled ends of sea walls guarding the Passe Nord entrance. Over 23,000 tonnes of concrete has been used in the construction of these structures.

Currently 12 metres tall, the caissons will be towed to the Passe Nord site one by one in a phase lasting until October, when their final construction afloat will take them to a height of 22 metres. These 15-metre diameter units will then be sunk on to platforms constructed 18 metres below sea level and injected with up to 10,000 tonnes of concrete. Completion of this project is scheduled by the year-end.

A spokesperson for the port authority commented, "Renovation of Drydock 10, which is the third largest in the world after Lisbon and Dubai at 465 by 85 metres, was mainly inspired by the growing world fleet of mega cruise ships, 65% of which operate in the Mediterranean but it will also provide a minimal-deviation repair and maintenance option for giant container, gas and bulk carriers as well as offshore platforms."

The EUR 31.1 million re-commissioning initiative includes overhaul of the pumps and electrical network in addition to the new gate, which will be moored on site for fitting out and testing when the dock is handed over to operator Chantier Naval Marseille (CNM) in the Autumn. During this period, the original gate which is currently being renovated, will be in place.

Last year, the port handled more than 170 vessels over 300 metres long and is now braced for regular calls from cruise ships exceeding 360 metres such as the Harmony of the Seas.

In addition to this work the Marseille Fos port authority has a growth plan extending up to 2018 costed at €360 million that is aimed at offering clients a dynamic Euro-Mediterranean logistics and industrial cluster. This is aimed at positioning the port as a viable European Gateway alternative to ports on the northern coasts. These investments will focus on container activities in both the Marseille and Fos harbour areas, the cruise operations, cruise ship repair and ro-ro services at Marseille as well as diverse traffic-building activities in Fos ranging from LNG and dry bulk trades to further industrial implants.

Elengy plans to build LNG multimodal break-bulking facilities at the Fos Tonkin and Fos Cavaou terminals which will be able to supply LNG as fuel to ship and truck users and to also supply LNG to satellite stations along the Mediterranean coast. Before the construction phase, a basic and a detailed engineering study will be carried out in order to evaluate the main adaptations required to the existing LNG terminals.

At the same time, the strategic plan is designed to preserve traditional activities including the oil and petro-chemical sectors at Fos and national and international ro-pax services based in Marseille.

Among projects earmarked at Fos, the land between the two Fos 2XL container terminals will be developed in response to customer demand to create a sole-use quay. As and when necessary, dredging to 16 metres will allow the terminals to handle the largest container ships in service. Meanwhile a combined transport terminal will be built at Fos similar to the Mourepiane facility which is under construction in Marseille, where work on the rail links is now starting.

In Marseille, part of the strategic plan will launch a new programme to upgrade the passenger terminals serving ferry links with Corsica and North Africa. This is to cope with increased traffic on these services.

Long-distance rail services have been identified as crucial to the port's aim of winning traffic from the northern ports and enhancing trade with hinterland markets such as Switzerland, Southern Germany and Austria. The port authority says it intends to support the launch of new services and seek partnerships in multi-modal platforms to enhance links beyond the natural hinterland.

Hand in hand with this economic development, measures to safeguard the environment are also central to the strategic plan. This is highlighted by the Caban Tonkin Industrial Innovation Platform (PIICTO) in a 1,200-hectare area of the Fos industrial zone, where nine energy-sector companies have joined forces with the port authority to promote cooperation, synergy, innovation and new investment. Alongside this is a scheme to protect 3,000 hectares of natural space in Fos.

By Dag Pike