British ports talking up bulk and coastal shipping at Breakbulk Europe

With the breakbulk sector gathering in Bremen today at this year’s Breakbulk Europe, the British Ports Association has renewed calls for further consideration of coastal shipping opportunities and a greater focus on port connectivity schemes within the UK.

Ports are vital components of the UK economy, acting as gateways for 95% of the UK’s international trade, as well as providing regional hubs for economic activity and employment. The UK’s transport network, which includes over 140 active cargo handling ports and terminals, facilitate the movement of significant volumes of freight. This allows British business and industry to compete and the economy to grow.

Coastal shipping in the UK gives us the opportunity to utilise the diverse range of UK ports for the short sea shipping of goods around the country and beyond. There are genuine opportunities available to drive new shipping services and business in transporting a variety of cargoes in an efficient and sustainable manner around the UK. Waterborne freight transport can also provide environmental benefits as well by reducing road congestion and pollution. As was mentioned in the UK Department for Transport’s recent Port Connectivity Study published last year, coastal shipping is a potentially underused domestic freight mode which deserves further consideration.

Commenting on the opportunities for coastal shipping and the importance of port connectivity, Sara Walsh, Corporate Services Manager at the British Ports Association, who is also attending Breakbulk Europe, said:

“The bulk cargo sector is the backbone of the ports and wider UK logistics industry. In comparison with other transport modes, shipping remains an efficient and environmentally sustainable option which the industry is keen to encourage.

A regular challenge for the coastal shipping sector is transport costs and finance for cargo, shipping and port operators start ups. The UK’s freight grants regime is designed to help with this but there has been limited take up in recent years. This is for a number of reasons such as the scope and limited timescales which in part stem from state aid rules. We feel it is time for the UK Government and devolved administrations to consider a full review, jointly conducted with industry, to explore how the grants scheme might be adapted and made more user friendly.

Coastal shipping has the opportunity to ease the burden on our congested roads and even railways, but the UK Government and local authorities need to invest in public infrastructure to better connect ports to the UK transport network. This needs to be done across the UK and not just in the South East.

Ports and terminals rely on good hinterland connections to facilitate this traffic and targeted investment should be strongly considered to implement the recommendations given in the UK Department for Transport’s Port Connectivity Study, published in 2018. It is important therefore that the governments in all parts of the UK ensures that road and rail links are as efficient as possible to help freight, and indeed passengers, entering and leaving the country via our ports so that is as efficient as is possible. This means that the ‘last mile’ between the port and trunk road, typically on local authority managed roads, and also the wider rail network need to be of a good standard and capable of providing sufficient freight capacity.”

Breakbulk Europe is being held in Bremen, Germany on 21-23 May and is the world’s largest event for the project cargo and breakbulk industry. There are expected to be over 550 exhibitors, 70 guest speakers and 11,000 people in attendance; from freight forwarders, ship agencies, cargo owners, carriers, government agencies, ports, terminals and a wider range of service providers.