Part of the coast that never sleeps

ALL day, all night - life at Britain's biggest container port is non-stop 24/7.It is the part of the coast which never sleeps, thriving Harwich Harbour where the world's biggest ships, behemoths bigger than football pitches, weighing over 100,000 tonnes and carrying 10,000 boxes, come and go at all states of the tide.

Richard Cornwell

ALL day, all night - life at Britain's biggest container port is non-stop 24/7.

It is the part of the coast which never sleeps, thriving Harwich Harbour where the world's biggest ships, behemoths bigger than football pitches, weighing over 100,000 tonnes and carrying 10,000 boxes, come and go at all states of the tide.

Cranes load and unload boxes in a constant rhythm from the holds of these huge vessels, tiny tugs down below on the quays taking them away to store in quayside parks, a kaleidoscope of colourful cargo, or whisked off by 4,000 lorries a day to distribute the goods all over the country.

The port - which handles more than 40 per cent of the country's import and export trade - is a vital lifeline of Britain's economy and absolutely essential to Suffolk's.

It provides jobs directly for more than 2,900 people and indirectly for around 12,000 working in associated industries, such as haulage, storage, distribution, shipping companies and forwarding agencies, and many more.

Most Read

This workforce's wages bring millions of pounds into Suffolk's economy, keeping shops and businesses, services and the leisure industry ticking along nicely.

The port - which handles more than three million standard-sized containers a year - is also an endless source of fascination for people with its operations watched by hundreds of thousands every year from the viewing area at Landguard.

Ship-spotters race to the viewpoint whenever unusual or large ships visit.

Around 5,000 vessels visit every year, many of them from the Far East on around the world services, but also many feeder ships, bringing goods on shorter hauls from European ports.

Some 55 shipping lines operate from Felixstowe, offering over 70 services and covering some 365 ports around the world.

It's not a business which can afford to stand still either.

Relying on imports, Britain has a shortage of container quay space and needs its ports to expand to cope with the future.

Many of Felixstowe's competitors are putting in hand plans to increase their capacity with Southampton, Bristol, Liverpool and Teesport all progressing schemes, and a new £1.5 billion port being built at London Gateway on the Thames.

Felixstowe is aiming to beat its rivals to the extra business and has started work on its own £250 million expansion project, with the first phase set to be fully operational by autumn 2010.

The old Dock Basin - the original historic heart of the port - is being filled in, the former P&O North Sea Ferries berths being redeveloped and Landguard Terminal transformed into a deep-sea terminal for the world's biggest ships.

It will increase the capacity of the port by 50 per cent and should give long-term security, especially with the plans to build a new terminal across the mile-wide harbour at Bathside Bay, and create effectively a super-port.