x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Britain's container revolution inspired by Jebel Ali

Jebel Ali, DP World's global hub just south of Dubai, was the model for Britain's container revolution in London's Thames estuary.

The best way to appreciate the sheer scale of DP World's London Gateway project is also somewhat nerve-racking.

From the boom of one of the 138-metre cranes jutting out high over the Thames estuary you get a bird's-eye view of Europe's newest deepwater port and the 1,500-acre logistics and industrial park that adjoins it.

You also run the risk of acute vertigo. But the importance of the strategic location of the site - once a Shell oil refinery - is immediately apparent.

On the horizon are the spires of London's new financial centre at Canary Wharf, symbolising London Gateway's proximity to its most important markets, while just a few miles upstream is the port of Tilbury.

DP World's plan is to accommodate ultra-large container ships that are too big to navigate the Thames at Tilbury and beyond. The state-of-the-art lifting gear is made in Shanghai by Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company, which is still finalising installation and operational training on the enormous machinery.

Three of the giant cranes, the biggest of their kind in the world, arrived at the Gateway site in April. A further 19 will be delivered over the coming years as Gateway is expanded upriver.

It will ultimately be able to handle 3.5 million standard-sized container units a year, challenging the container businesses at Southampton and Felixstowe, the two leading container ports in the United Kingdom.

The Gateway's Berth One is due to be open for business in the fourth quarter of the year, with a grand formal opening planned for some time next year.

DP World, the global ports business majority owned by Dubai World, is investing £1.5 billion (Dh8.41bn) over the 10-year to 15-year period of the Gateway's development.

For that money, it hopes to revolutionise the way Britain distributes goods to consumers, and become the centre of a new logistical system in the south-east of the country and beyond.

The Gateway project recently won the endorsement of one of Britain's leading companies, the retailer Marks & Spencer, which became an anchor tenant in the logistics park, building a £200 million warehousing and distribution hub there. As many as half of M&S's UK customers are estimated to be in the Gateway catchment area.

Other businesses are expected to follow. The key economic proposition of the project is that transportation costs can be dramatically reduced by Gateway's proximity to the markets of Britain's south-east, still the most affluent part of the country even after the austeritymeasures that the UK has undergone since the financial crisis.

But the basic idea - a modern port linked to an industrial and logistics hub - came from many thousands of kilometres away: Jebel Ali, DP World's global hub just south of Dubai and the biggest port in the Middle East, was the model for the grand project in the Thames estuary.