London Gateway is a hive of activity

The first three (grey) cranes arrive at Berth One, London Gateway Port
The first three (grey) cranes arrive at Berth One, London Gateway Port
Bulk carrier Yeoman Bridge unloads 90,000 tonnes of aggregates direct to the site. (Note the completed container stacking area in the background)
Bulk carrier Yeoman Bridge unloads 90,000 tonnes of aggregates direct to the site. (Note the completed container stacking area in the background)
A ‘high-tech’ track laying machine hard at work putting down and new rail terminal
A ‘high-tech’ track laying machine hard at work putting down and new rail terminal
An artists impression of the completed London Gateway port and logistics park
An artists impression of the completed London Gateway port and logistics park

The new DP World – London Gateway port, currently under construction in the Thames Estuary is a hive of activity, with significant ‘milestones’ being achieved on a regular basis.

With the facility due to open for business during the last quarter of this year, activity is intense to ensure that the first berth and its facilities are completed on time. When completed the new deep water port will be capable of handling the world’s largest container ships and receiving 3.5m containers a year.

Maritime Journal was invited to attend the site on  March when another very prominent ‘milestone’ came to fruition, the arrival of the first three giant container cranes.

The heavy lift ship Zhen Hua 26 was carefully manoeuvered by tugs alongside the first completed berth of the new jetty after a two month voyage from China. The size of the new cranes was breathtaking. Each crane is 138m in height and weighs 1,848 tonnes and have already become a prominent landmark, visible for miles around Essex and Kent. They are the first cranes in the UK to be able to lift four containers at once and have gantries long enough to reach across the next generation of container ships, still under construction, thus giving the new port an important element of ‘future proofing’.

This first delivery of cranes, built and delivered by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company (ZPMC), a world leader in the development of quay cranes, left Shanghai on 7 January. Two more cranes are already at sea bound for the new port and a further 19 cranes are planned for delivery over the coming years.

The cranes will operate on a new quay wall which when completed will be 2.7km in length and will provide six main berths long enough to accommodate the largest ships currently envisaged. The foundations of the new quay are 50m deep and robust enough to take the massive loads imposed by the day to day use of the cranes and traffic in container handling machinery. At the time of writing one berth was virtually complete, needing only the cranes to be commissioned and some minor work. Completion of the second berth will follow shortly.

Simon Moore, CEO, DP World London Gateway said: “London Gateway port, and the combined logistics park, is Britain’s new gateway for global trade. These cranes will bring new innovation and efficiency to the supply chain industry. It won’t be long before importers and exporters across the country will be able to cut costs dramatically from their supply chains by choosing London Gateway, a port which is much closer to where goods need to go. A world-class deep-sea container port requires a world class set of cranes. They will be the lynchpin of the operation – the biggest, most modern and most efficient the UK has ever seen.”

The new port along with its extensive logistics park occupies a 600 hectare site in Essex at Stanford-le-Hope, 25 miles east of central London.  At the heart of this massive construction project , said to be the largest in Britain with the exception of ‘Crossrail’, has been the dredging operation. From the very start of the construction process in March 2010 an almost continuous dredging program has been underway until quite recently.  

Laing O’Rourke Infrastructure Limited and Belgian specialist Dredging International NV (DEME Group) have been responsible for dredging, land reclamation and construction at the Essex site, under a joint venture contract valued at £400m. The site has been raised by 3m and the quay is located up to 600m into the estuary on reclaimed land. A separate logistics park, originally planned to be 9.5 million sq ft in size, is set to be built under a separate construction contract.

Andrew Bowen, London Gateway engineering director said: “London Gateway is built on new land created from material that we dredged from the existing shipping channel. So, these new cranes will be operating on land that, up until a few months back, was in the sea.”

The shipping approach channels have been dredged from 11m to 14.5 m in the inner channel and 16 m in the outer channel. The berth pockets have been deepened to 17m, allowing the world’s largest ships to call at London Gateway.

London Gateway was quick to make good use of the completed berths. A significant milestone and a boost for those working on the site was the arrival of the port’s first ship. The cargo ship Wieniawski berthed on 2 December 2012, completing a voyage from China with four automatic stacking cranes. The historic occasion was marked with a ceremony where London Gateway CEO Simon Moore and the new port’s Harbour Master, Colin Hitchcock, presented the ship’s captain, Captain D. Musil, and Port of London Authority pilot, Simon Liley, each with a bronze model Dhow to commemorate the significant event.

All four automated stacking cranes have been assembled and are already in place in the massive container stacking area adjacent to the completed berth. The cranes will operate consistently throughout the working day and night. The stacking areas for shipping containers will have dedicated landside and quayside equipment which mean that road vehicles will always have equipment dedicated to their needs.

In February the heavy lift deck ship Meri arrived at the same berth from Finland to deliver 18 Cargotec straddle carriers. The diesel-electric powered, one-over-one (or two-high) straddle carriers make up the entire fleet required for the first berth operations opening later this year. They  are equipped with advanced positioning systems which keep the terminal operating system informed as to their precise location in real time, ensuring maximum efficiency and swift service as they move containers around the terminal.

In mid-February the self discharging bulk cargo ship Yeoman Bridge arrived at berth two with 90,000 tonnes of aggregate for the construction of the port’s gate complex, in a single direct delivery. London Gateway Harbour Master Colin Hitchcock said: “Yeoman Bridge is the largest aggregate ship to come this far up the River Thames to date. The 249m long ship arrived with a 14m draft and docked safely along London Gateway’s Berth Two.”

Andrew Bowen commented: “This mega delivery was going to be landed at a smaller port in the South East and then transported to us by road, but we insisted the ship make arrangements to unload its cargo here at London Gateway. We were aware that by ensuring the ship docked at London Gateway we would remove 9,000 lorry trips, which is a massive saving in terms of emissions, fuel consumption and impact on our national road infrastructure. In addition to taking shipments by sea and rail, we are recycling and reusing materials and have our own concrete batching on site, to reduce the number of lorries we have coming and going from site.”

An important element of the entire project, running in parallel with the construction of the container terminal and logistics park, is the development of a new railway interface and improvements to the road access.

Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering has been awarded a multi-million pound contract to build a new rail terminal capable of handling the longest trains in the UK. Work is underway to develop the first of three rail terminals and ‘double track’ the branch line to the new container port. Another recent milestone was the arrival of one of the only two massive New Track Construction (NTC) machines in the UK. It is eating up the kilometres and has been making short work of a huge rail construction programme at London Gateway.

Bowen continued: “We have more than 2,300 people now employed on-site who are in the final stages of constructing what we believe is the most technologically advanced port in the world, with hundreds more employed behind the scenes. The majority are British engineers and construction companies, which means this is great news for the economy. This really is a fantastic place to work and we are now recruiting heavily for more engineers and operations staff.”

Simon Moore added: “We are also working on several aspects of London Gateway, including recruiting hundreds of staff who will operate and maintain equipment; investing millions of pounds into local roads, including the A13 and the M25 motorway; and building 20km of new rail track to ensure that over 30% of containers can move by rail.”

By Jack Gaston

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