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Smaller entrepreneurs are hoping that London Gateway will boost business for them as well as attracting the long-established names in shipping.

After the fanfare of the SAECS-deployed MOL Caledon’s maiden call at DP World London Gateway, this past weekend saw a second scheduled call by the much less heralded 5,057 teu Safmarine Nokwanda, operated by one of the pioneers of the South African containerised trade.

Tilbury-based shipping agency MK Shipping is port agent for Safmarine and Maersk calls and reported an incident-free routine cargo operation at the new port. The Safmarine Nokwanda arrived 6pm on Saturday and commenced discharge within minutes of the vessel being all fast and the gangway down. The exchange of 549 containers – 164 discharge and 335 load – was completed by midday Sunday and the vessel was on its way to Bremerhaven by 12.40pm.

Although established since 1995, and having been Maersk’s agent at Tilbury for the past 10 years, MK Shipping director Jamie Couch is confident that the firm can gain work from the fledgling port and logistics park.

He said: “The plan in the first instance is to work alongside a container supplier and haulage company to offer a full lashing, loading and de-van service under the banner of our sister company, TLS [Tilbury Lashing Services], in which we are majority shareholders.”

TLS also attended the Safmarine Nokwanda and Mr Couch added that it and MK would share an on-site office to cover port operations, which he expects to become increasingly busy as new, regular and ad-hoc services decide to call at London Gateway.

Meanwhile, there is another new kid on the block, providing towage services for SAECS vessels and other shipping company customers in the River Thames: Netherlands-based Kotug, which won the SAECS towage contract from Maersk subsidiary Svitzer, breaking the Danish company’s dominant position in London’s maritime artery.

However, after its 2007 acquisition of rival Adsteam was cleared by the UK’s Competition Commission, Svitzer still enjoys a near 90% market share of tug providing in UK ports.

Like MK Shipping, Kotug is investing in the future at the DP World facility. It has three tugs stationed in the river and its president and CEO, Ard-Jan Kooren, said at the London Gateway operational opening ceremony on 7 November that it would “not hesitate to deploy more tugs as required”.

He said Kotug was in discussion with a number of potential London Gateway customers and was confident that new deals would be done.

Meanwhile, Safmarine, which was incorporated in 1946, was a founding member of the South Africa Europe Container Service [SAECS] consortium that, since 1977, has operated a containerised service between Europe and South Africa, hitherto from the nearby port of Tilbury.

Today, the SAECS membership consists of MOL; German Africa specialist Deutsche Afrika-Linien [DAL], and Maersk Line, which jointly offer a weekly link to South Africa’s consumers and fruit and wine exporters. They each contribute two units in an eight-vessel service that turns in 56 days.

The current panamax ships are stemmed to be upgraded to a post-panamax 6,500-7,000teu size in the first quarter of 2014; mainly to cover the cargo volumes from the axed Med Shuttle service, which instead of separately serving South African ports will tranship to the north-south core service at the hub port of Algeciras.

It is perhaps fitting that the UK’s brand new container terminal should embrace both the long-established name as well as the new entrepreneurs.

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