WORK has today started on a £150m expansion of Southampton’s container port to safeguard 2,000 jobs and create a further 200.

After months of red tape – and a legal challenge by a rival port – the city’s container terminal is being expanded to handle the world’s largest ships.

The ceremonial lifting of the first paving slab signalled the beginning of the reconstruction of berths 201 and 202 in preparation for the arrival of the next generation of ultra-large container carriers (ULCCs).

Port director Doug Morrison said the £150m project to create a lost fourth deep-sea container berth was vital for the port’s long-term future.

He added the port would struggle to remain competitive if it couldn’t handle the new generation of mega container ships.

Port officials and city MPs gathered for the ceremonial lifting of the first paving slab signalling the beginning of the works.

Peter Jones, ABP's chief executive, said: “This is a major step forward in our plans to further develop Southampton.
“The £150m investment in the new berth and supporting infrastructure represents a huge vote of confidence in Southampton's ability to meet the exacting demands of our customers in a new era where ULCCs are set to become quayside regulars.''

The work will begin with a six month piling operation between next month and March, 2013.

The upgrade project, which was delayed by months of red tape and a legal challenge by Felixtowe, will create around 200 jobs as well as safeguarding 800 direct jobs and 1,200 indirect jobs.

It comes just weeks after two of the world’s largest ocean carriers – Hapag-Lloyd’s Hamburg Express and UASC’s Jebel Ali, berthed in tandem at the container terminal for the first time ushering in “a new era”. Each are capable of carrying more than 13,000 boxes.

Berths 201 and 202 in the western docks are being combined with a reconstructed 500m long quay wall and a deeper 16m berth pocket to restore the container terminal’s four-berth capacity.

An increase in size of container ships has meant the current deep-sea berths, 204 to 207, can no longer handle four of the largest vessels at the same time.

The new berth will be ready for operation in early 2014 with five giant cranes working along the quayside.

The project will cost around £90m with additional dredging of a deeper main channel between the Isle of Wight and the port, still awaiting permission, pushing the total value up to £150m.

Major works must be carried out between now and March to avoid disturbing migratory Atlantic salmon.

Berths 201 and 202 were the port’s original container berths and welcomed the first deep-sea container vessel, Kamakura Maru, 40 years ago. But they ceased to handle containers in the 1980s and are now used for roll-on roll-off vessels transporting cars.

The upgrade project is part of a plan to boost handling capacity from two million to 2.7 million 20ft equivalent container boxes by 2020.

  • Additional reporting by Keith Hamilton