Portlands ship repair ambitions.

Portland harbour off the British south coast is closing in on its ambitions to develop a major ship repair facility close to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

In the days when Portland was the operational port for the UK Royal Navy’s home fleet, more than 80 warships could be anchored in the inner harbour alone.  Since the departure of the Royal Navy in 1996, this south coast facility has been developed into a thriving commercial port, employing more than 600 people on its dock estate.

Portland Harbour Authority says the port handles more than 650 large vessels annually. Now it wants to put Portland on the map as an important centre for ship repair, too.

The harbour authority has launched plans for a £50m ship repair yard, which it says could bring hundreds of new jobs to the area. Already it has sent information about the proposal to about 2,500 shipyard companies around the world, inviting expressions of interest. The response is now being sifted so that detailed technical information can be provided; the authority is hoping this process will lead to about 15 companies formally registering their interest.

“We will then invite them to come to Portland, look around, meet us, see the opportunities and ask us questions,” says chief executive Steve Davies. “After that, we will go into the process of short-listing the best four or five potential bidders, and embark on due diligence, etc.”

All of this is expected to deliver, before the end of the year, a “preferred bidder” with which the harbour authority hopes to sign long-term leases and commercial arrangements.

The plan has been ten years in the making – all the legal consents have already been obtained, and Steve Davies says that the creation of the ship yard repair and floating dock facilities would take about 12 months.”

“We want to take our time [in the concession process] because we are offering a minimum 30 years plus an option to extend for another 30 years for the shipyard,” he says. “We are prepared to help them out commercially in the short-term and in return we are looking for a long-term commitment; we will work together to achieve our goals.”

While the harbour authority has its ideas about the infrastructure this venture might have, the important message for the ship repair company is that the project starts from a blank piece of paper, he adds. “We want to make it work through a partnership approach. By finding a partner for the port authority, the port will concentrate on what it is good at, i.e. getting ships in and out, pilotage, towage.  This proposal does take away some cargo space but we are talking of potentially major business – this would be very significant if the shipyard gets it right. And then it would pull more ships into the harbour, and that is all good news for the harbour authority.”

Ports, he says, don’t necessarily have to be big to be successful. “You have to be very good at niche marketing to be successful. And I think that is no different to the sorts of things we would expect from a shipyard company. We would expect them to be a little bit innovative, like we have been, and have a degree of specialisation.

“Of course we are a good location for Channel ferries and also for emergency repairs for vessels on the East-West shipping lane. But a shipyard company may want to specialise. I have no doubt at all there is a market for a major ship repair facility at Portland – I am convinced about that. And the time we are spending on this project will be time well spent; we want Portland to be a ship repair centre for the next 60 years, and what we do commercially has to reflect that.”

By Felicity Landon from London.

Source: www.seatrade-global.com


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