Boom-time for shipping in Hull as dock master says port is 'as busy as ever'

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 23 Nov 2018

In the complicated world of shipping, Associated British Ports' Mark Collier made one point clear – bigger ships means bigger money.

As we sat in the office of the dock master who covers the Humber, a 200m-long cargo ship edged its way inch-by-inch through the lock gates and into Hull’s docks.

Making sure these enormous vessels safely enter and leave the docks is no mean feat, and that responsibility falls on the shoulders of ABP’s marine team.

More than 50 people, including the vital lock head staff who oversee ships as they pass through the main lock, make up the team, and work around the clock to keep the port trading.

Mr Collier said business is booming in Hull.

“On this river there is a ship every half an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said.

Mark Collier, dock master in Hull. (Hull Live)

“The number of ships coming through the lock gates dropped off quite significantly in 2009 – the industry really did get the backside kicked out of it.

“At the moment though it is as busy as ever. Ships are certainly getting bigger – it is no secret that bigger ships means bigger money.

“With the largest ships that come in – which can be up to 200m long – we have to get them through the lock gates in three parts. That can take three hours from start to finish.”

Read more: Meet the team who stop boats and ships from running aground and sinking in the Humber

Over the decades, every variety of cargo imaginable has come in and out of ABP in Hull.

From tractors and motorcars to food products, biomass pellets and oils, the lock gates have seen everything passing through them.

Alan Benn is a lock head man at ABP in Hull. (Hull Live)

Getting ships safely through the lock gates is only part of the challenge though.

The River Humber is a constantly shifting beast – sand and mud banks can make for treacherous conditions, and it is up to the river’s pilots to safely guide and navigate ships into Hull.

Read more: Hull strengthens ties with Belgium with new port connection

Mr Collier said: “Planning is absolutely vital, and that starts from the moment the pilot ship gets onto the boat at Spurn Point.

“All sorts can happen. Some days are better than others, and the tide obviously plays a huge role.

“If we run out of time and have to turn a ship around, it can cost as much as £20,000. We have an anchorage outside the port which ships can wait in, until the tide changes and it is safe for them to come in.”

Mr Collier said Hull was, ship for ship, the busiest port in the UK.

The port’s lock gates are rarely out of the action, and are a vital cog in the ever-turning shipping wheel.

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