Tugs and more than US$150M of investment have helped an industrial port in the north of the UK turnaround after a huge loss in the region, to become one of the fastest-growing ports in western Europe
Teesside in England’s north east weathered an economic shock in 2015 when the Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI)-owned steelworks closed. The steel works’ closure struck a heavy blow to the region and its surrounding businesses, and especially Teesport, as it had generated most of the activity in its terminals and harbours for decades.
Five years on, the docksides are busy again and Teesport has become the UK’s third-largest port through adaptating to different business opportunities. It has diversified into new markets with different trade lines and invested £120M (US$155M) in cutting-edge container infrastructure.
It is now a major container port and hub for the booming offshore renewables sector in England.
Teesport authority has realised substantial growth in container volumes – the largest growth seen at any UK port.
Svitzer helped facilitate this growth and adaption into different maritime trade sectors with a fleet of five harbour tugs.
“A new sense of optimism – underpinned by considerable economic growth and increasing operational diversity – has now taken root,” said Svitzer UK North managing director Ita Dickson. “This growth has also brought with it unique challenges,” she told Tug Technology & Business.
She said Teesport is a snapshot of the ongoing transformation taking place within the maritime sector – presenting a case study for how towage operators must adapt to enable sustained growth.
Teesport’s resurgence has seen a sustained and significant growth in container volumes and the rise of UK’s green energy sector as more offshore windfarms are built and maintained in the North Sea.
“From a towage perspective, demand has already returned to pre-SSI closure levels, with an average of 20-25 vessels handled each week,” said Ms Dickson.
“However, the operating landscape is now considerably different than before, which presents a significant challenge for towage providers.”
Growth and new diversity at Teesport is placing fresh demands on marine service companies. “Teesport has its own unique set of geographical conditions that make it more challenging to operate out of,” Ms Dickson explained.
Unlike most UK ports – which have some of the most extreme tidal ranges in the world – Teesport is not tidal and does not have locks impacting traffic in and out of the port.
“Tug call out times are generally at two hours’ notice – rather than the six, 12 or even 24 hours afforded at other busy ports – resulting in irregular cycles of activity 24/7, 365 days per year,” she continued.
“Consequently, flexibility is crucial, which is why Svitzer uses shift-based rotations on five tugs and a minimum 30 crew week-on/week-off.”
Svitzer’s Teesport tug fleet includes:
“Meeting the unique scenarios that Teesport presents requires a flexible approach, with vessels called on from neighbouring ports, such as Tyne, and further afield across the North Sea to meet demand and tackle emergent challenges,” said Ms Dickson.
Svitzer uses its scale and flexibility of being a global operator of tugs to overcome operational, technical and personnel challenges.
“The human and technical element that underpin good towage operations form another vital part of succeeding at Teesport,” said Ms Dickson.
“At the basic level, crew training and ensuring consistent high-quality skill sets is critical. As with all good towage, local knowledge should come first, as that is what fundamentally builds a good bedrock of skill and trust from owners and operators.”
Svitzer has to provide fast-paced towage with challenging cargoes at Teesport. “This requires total cohesion between land and sea,” said Ms Dickson. “Relationships throughout the port community are essential.”
Svitzer has made Teesport its UK headquarters, with countrywide operations being the biggest nation in the company’s northern Europe division.
The challenges of operating at this busy hub – including the economic shock and resultant recovery – are becoming more apparent across the sector. Teesport is, therefore, a microcosm of change, said Ms Dickson.
“For towage providers, it makes a key lesson clear: with more diverse vessels, challenging cargoes, fast-paced operations and increased demand, the capabilities of towage providers are more fundamental to the integrity of the wider supply chain than ever before,” she said.
“Meeting these challenges means delivering first-in-class safety, consistency and flexibility, ensuring that towage continues to play its unique and vital role underpinning the first and last mile of seaborne trade.”
Technical and operational challenges will be discussed in depth during Riviera’s Smart Tug Operations Virtual Conference on 1 December 2020 - use this link to access details and to register for this event