© Khunaspix Dreamstime.

With the opening of the massive new London Gateway just down the river, the port of Tilbury’s London Container Terminal (LCT) is claiming its first victory in a no-holds-barred battle for the UK’s boxline customers.

LCT received the first call from German carrier OPDR last week after clinching a deal which saw the niche Iberian peninsula, Canary Islands and North Africa operator switch its business of around 200 port calls a year from Felixstowe to the River Thames facility.

The port says winning OPDR from rival Felixstowe was a major coup for LCT and takes away much of the pain of seeing one of Tilbury’s longest-calling customers, SAECS, move to the newly-opened DP World London Gateway just 10 miles downriver.

The 698teu OPDR Cadiz arrived at LCT’s riverside berth at 3pm on December 4 with a full cargo of containers laden with potatoes, fruit juices and other commodities from Spain destined to stock the shelves of UK stores in time for Christmas.

The vessel’s cargo exchange went very smoothly and it departed at 9pm the same day.

The prompt despatch was good news for OPDR as the vessel had been delayed by a day due to adverse weather conditions on its northbound voyage, and scheduling disruption due to a dock strike at Lisbon.

Head of commercial at LCT, Angela Black said: “We are particularly pleased to have successfully integrated the OPDR service into our new terminal operation system which we have been developing for the past 18 months. We are now working with OPDR to bring forward the Canary service to Tilbury before the end of the year.”

OPDR cited LCT’s flexibility as one of the main reasons for the move to Tilbury after years of calling at the UK’s biggest container port of Felixstowe. The 130-year-old OPDR – an abbreviation of Oldenburg-Portugiesische-Dampfschiffs-Rhederei – no doubt preferring to be a relatively big fish at the 500,000teu per year LCT terminal to that of a smaller player at the 3.5 million teu east coast port

LCT’s flexibility was tested again at the weekend with the second call on OPDR’s Spanish loop. The OPDR Tanger arrived a day later than planned, due to the Lisbon disruption, and was allowed to stay on the inner berth at Tilbury while some minor engine repairs were completed.

MD of OPDR’s long-serving UK liner agency John Good, Alan Platt, said he was confident that the move was right for OPDR. “The reliability of the terminal and excellent hinterland connections will grow the business,” he said.

In keeping with OPDR’s commitment, which would also see the two Canary Island loops transfer to Tilbury by early 2014, Mr Platt said John Good’s office would be expanded to accommodate the business, which was part of the company’s growth strategy.

The opening of London Gateway in October has prompted a much more aggressive stance from the management of the UK’s southern container ports. With the proposed P3 alliance’s calls slated as divided between Felixstowe and Southampton and the G6 partners seemingly to remain at Southampton, the jockeying for the other top-20 carriers’ business, as well as for shortsea and midsea clients, has intensified among the ports.

Moreover, recently Hapag-Lloyd’s north Atlantic services moved from the Hutchison-owned Thamesport to Southampton, and CMA CGM subsidiary MacAndrews transferred its entire operation from Tilbury to Thamesport.

And with excess capacity in the UK’s port market in 2014, competition is likely to become more intense between the ports; not least because London Gateway now needs to build upon its early success of attracting SAECS and justify its £1.5bn investment by signing up a major carrier to Asia.

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.
  • Gary

    December 10, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    The above is a great insight as to how the smaller lines will shift from what are perceived as Main UK Hubs to the smaller niche terminals such as LCT and Thamesport given time as they will then get the berths and cranes that they also need to maintain a healthy schedule to keep the business moving.

    As per another article about irresponsable terminal building i feel that DPW building London Gateway have once again decided that they should build for the sake of it just because they can and have made HUGE assumptions that the lines will be scrambling to join them and leave the established FLX – SOU which currently hasn’t happened. That being said it may but it could turn into the best gamble they have ever made or into a thing of nightmares for DPW if One of the large consortiums/lines do not switch sooner rather than nightmare. I feel for the accountants looking at the numbers.

  • Andy Robins

    December 11, 2013 at 3:00 am

    With so much choice, this has to be good news right down the chain to the consumer.
    It will be interesting to see if all these terminals can turn a profit year on year.
    We sense confidence is taking over from the doom and gloom of this past recession, so this should bode well for all ports across Europe.
    Kind Regards