THEY have already tried to pinch our cruise ships, but now Liverpool is attempting to muscle in on Southampton’s commercial port business.

But the head of Southampton docks last night said he believes the city is well placed to survive any new challenge from a £300m deep water container terminal on the River Mersey.

Plans for a major expansion of the north west port’s freighthandling facilities look set to get the go-ahead next month, after the deadline for complaints about the scheme passed last week.

Bosses at Peel Ports, which owns the facility, believe an extension allowing larger ships to load and unload on Merseyside will be a “game changer”

and enable Liverpool to try to entice business away from south east docks like Southampton.

Liverpool would be able to handle up to 2m containers a year, compared to the 664,000 it attracted in 2011 – much less than half the 1,590,000 which came through Southampton, the second busiest port in Britain after Felixstowe.

If the green light for dredging the Mersey is granted by the Marine Management Organisation next month, Peel Ports hopes the new facility would open in 2015.

The firm said it believes Liverpool’s geographical position will make it attractive to customers looking to reduce reliance on transporting goods around the country by road or rail.

It is expected that only a few of the giant super-ships would be diverted from ports like Southampton, with smaller feeder services potentially being used to take goods on to Liverpool rather than on-land carriers.

But it comes as the market for container business is already about to become significantly more competitive, with the huge £1.5 billion London Gateway set to open next year with the ability to handle 3.5m containers.

But Southampton port director Doug Morrison said last night he believes Southampton will continue to flourish, and insisted he is not upset by Liverpool’s latest expansion.

It comes just months after the “Cruise Wars” row over the move to use city’s publicly-funded new £21m cruise terminal to tout for lucrative business from Southampton’s private docks, but Mr Morrison said this venture is completely different.

“As long as there’s no public money involved we can’t have any complaints, so good luck to them,” he said.

“It’s a market that when the London Gateway comes on stream next year will have excess capacity, so that will increase the competitiveness.

“I was in the Far East last week in Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea, talking to the container lines and without doubt they are very happy with the service they get in Southampton.”