Monday, January 21, 2013

London Gateway Prepares to Handle First Shipping Containers as it Gears Up for Freight

New Port looks to the Future and Reflects on its Past
Shipping News Feature

UK – The news that the first three giant quay cranes are en route from China has delighted staff at London Gateway, DP World’s new deep-water container port on the Thames. Towering at a height of 138 metres (taller than the London Eye) the colossal cranes are each able to span the width of the world’s largest box vessels, plucking up containers situated twenty five rows away. Whilst the cranes represent the future, DP World is aware it is merely caretaker of an area which has a history as a port stretching back millennia and the company is also striving to preserve the past in word and deed.

Firstly the facts, the new cranes are the product of Shanghai's Zhenhua Port Machinery Company (ZPMC) which is to supply a total of five quay cranes, and two rail mounted gantry cranes while Cargotec will provide 10 automatic stacking cranes and 18 straddle carriers for the first berth. This equipment will enable the port to become operational before the end of this year. The new cranes are semi-automated, which allows quick and efficient handling of containers. They are also connected directly to the Terminal Operating System, which tracks the containers and sends work orders to the crane operator.

Each of the new cranes weighs in at 1848 tonnes and is capable of lifting up to 80 tonnes using just one competent operator. Tim Halhead, London Gateway Operations Director said:

“The size of the cranes future proofs the port, allowing London Gateway to handle the next generation of ultra large container ships. These cranes are among the most advanced in the industry, assisting our operatives to deliver a reliable and consistently high level of productivity.”

Whilst London Gateway is aiming to drive its way into the European port scene simply by way of its key location (independent maritime consultancy Drewry has estimated savings between £59 and £189 per round trip container dependent on geographical position), plus its cutting edge technology, the management are aware of the incredibly rich history of the Essex site and further to the extensive works undertaken to discover and preserve anything of interest either environmentally or historically, two new academic books, supported by two more readable popular versions, have been published which capture years of maritime and land-based archaeological work carried out prior to construction.

The new books published last month ‘Iron Age and Roman Salt making in the Thames Estuary’ and ‘Maritime Archaeology in the Thames Estuary’ are part of London Gateway’s environmental management programme. The former book has increased knowledge of industry taking place during this period, before the introduction of refrigeration salt was of course a critical commodity for the preservation of food. The excavations have provided significant new information on the technologies employed during its production and evidence of associated industries which were found to take place on what is now known as the Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve.

The knowledge gained survives in part today with Maldon in Essex taking its place as one of the most highly regarded quality sea salt producers in the culinary world. The Stanford site’s bone assemblage suggests that beef was being salted there and that fish sauce, a luxury commodity and still revered in the Far East and other regions, was also manufactured. Findings further suggest that an expansion of production activity in the later Roman period may be associated with supply to the Roman army.

The marine archaeological investigation undertaken in advance of the dredging of the Thames has been ground breaking; London Gateway is one of the largest marine archaeological programmes to be undertaken in the UK and the work has set a new benchmark for how such projects should be planned and delivered.

The published volume, Maritime Archaeology in the Thames Estuary, includes important finds related to late 19th and 20th century shipping and an assessment of the methodologies adopted during the investigations and is intended to stimulate debate on how archaeological mitigation ahead of port developments should be approached in the future. Gill Andrews, London Gateway Archaeological Liaison Officer said:

“Large scale infrastructure projects such as London Gateway offer an important opportunity to archaeologists, allowing for a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of past societies. Archaeological work at London Gateway has both challenged existing policies and approaches in order to establish more effective working practices and has added significantly to our knowledge of the past.”

London Gateway’s support to the archaeological teams from Oxford Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology has been a major factor in the successful delivery of the archaeological mitigation programme and Richard Havis, Essex County Council Senior Historic Environment Officer, commented:

“It has been a pleasure to work with DP World London Gateway on this project. Excellent working relationships have been established and the archaeological work has been important and carried out to a high standard”

Marcus Pearson, London Gateway Environment Manager explained how the site of the new port had been a hub for industry, trade and distribution for over two millennia. The knowledge gained from the painstaking excavations of the former industrial undertakings had added greatly to the understanding of a site which would continue its link to overseas trade under the latest regime. Christopher Pater, English Heritage Head of Marine Planning, added:

“The maritime archaeological investigations undertaken on this major infrastructure project have contributed to the development of archaeological methodologies and will continue to inform the conduct of similar projects in the future.”

In addition to the academic volumes, two popular books have been published, one on the salt making site, the other on the maritime archaeology programme. These will be available at the Essex Wildlife Trust’s, Cory Environmental Trust Visitor Centre at Stanford-le-Hope. The finds from the salt-making site will be provided to Thurrock Museum and the maritime finds will be provided to Southend Museum.

Photo: The first three enormous cranes on their way to Essex.