© Khunaspix Dreamstime.

The under-construction London Gateway container terminal has secured its first liner customer in the shape of the Southern Africa Express Container Service (SAECS).

The service, operated by a consortium comprising MOL, Deutsche Afrika-Linien (DAL) and Maersk, along with its subsidiary Safmarine, currently makes its UK call at Tilbury’s London Container Terminal.

The partners said they will switch the SAECS main string UK call to London Gateway in early November, with the first vessel, the MOL Caledon, scheduled to arrive on 7 November.

The 4,900teu vessel is one of the largest in the service, which currently links the South African export ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, to the North European gateways of Tilbury, Rotterdam and Bremerhaven. It is also offers relay services to the Mediterranean via the Canaries transhipment hub of Las Palmas, while Baltic destinations are serviced through feeders out of Bremerhaven.

The service is heavily dependent on the South African fruit trade, as evidenced by the large number of reefer slots available on the vessels – 1,150 – over 30% of the MOL Caledon’s capacity.

In joint communique to shippers, the carriers said: “The SAECS members are proud to be a frontrunner in this port development in the UK.

“With this change of terminal, the lines aim to secure not only benefits for their clients through the new infrastructure (such as improved rail connections) and access to UK markets, but also operational advantages which will assist the lines in maintaining schedule integrity and reliability, while enabling you to further streamline your supply chains.”

The announcement of the new service will undoubtedly be a boon to the UK’s newest port, to open in the fourth quarter of this year, and follows the formal announcement in June that Marks & Spencer is to be the first customer at the port’s logistics park, in 2015.

However, the two deals are mostly unconnected. The M&S warehouse is set to primarily handle the retailer’s general merchandise and ambient (canned) foodstuffs, rather the perishable fruits that South Africa exports, and will also act as a distribution hub for its stores in mainland Europe, according to Emile Naus, head of logistics strategy at the company.

Marks & Spencer’s general merchandise business currently totals around 40,000teu per year, and its clothing is mostly sourced from Asia – its top five ports of origin are Shanghai and Yantian in China, the Sri Lankan hub of Colombo, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sihanoukville in Cambodia. In order to supply the new London Gateway warehouse the port will have to add an Asia-Europe string – and certainly winning an Asia-Europe service will be a prized scalp.

In a recent interview with The Loadstar, Mr Naus seemed unconcerned by the lack of any announcement on shipping services, saying, “we are looking at a number of options and we will certainly find a way to deliver the cargo here”.

But the move of the SAECS main string does underline another point, recently outlined at the TOC Europe event in Rotterdam, that Tilbury’s status as one of the leading UK container terminals is under considerable threat from London Gateway. It has been long established as a specialist in the north-south trades, of which the SAECS service is a core component, and its loss represents a blow to the port’s ambitions in container shipping.

Previously known as Tilbury Container Services, the facility was jointly owned by Associated British Ports, Forth Ports and DP World, which owns London Gateway. However, in January 2012 Forth Ports acquired full ownership after purchasing the stakes held by ABP and DP World.

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.