A view of Southampton Port
Britain Ports Shipping Transport


Southampton Port, is one of Britain’s major ports serving the English Midlands and South East. In European terms of volume of trade it ranks the 13th busiest container port in Europe. In 2017, it shifted some 2,008 thousand TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit). The ongoing dredging policy ensures vessels of 15.5 metres draft, can access the port.

The main part of Southampton Port is owned and operated by Associated British Ports since 1982. The port has good rail and road links to London, Heathrow, the English Midlands and the Channel Tunnel.

Many of the port’s operations are outsourced to specialist enterprises such as the ports container terminal unit to DP World and the fruit terminal to Solent Stevedores.

Southampton has a natural deep-water harbour, with a unique double tide, which allows unrestricted access for the world’s largest vessels. ABP Southampton provides VTS & pilotage services throughout Southampton Water and much of the Central & Eastern Solent.

In addition, there are the usual bunkering and tug services available for vessels. The port operator is working with its customers to protect the environment, cut waste and improve sustainability. For instance, the installation of 1mWp solar (3600 panels) across 6 operational buildings within the port of Southampton. This included a 500kWp installation on the largest cruise Terminal in the UK, The Ocean Terminal.

The port has been a centre of maritime trade, ship building and engineering since the Roman times, although it did not become a major port until the 1850’s with the rise of the steam ship age. Since then it has been a major trading port for ships on oceanic journeys, visiting or leaving Europe.

This feature looks at some of the key activities that take place at the Port of Southampton in Hampshire England.


It is one of Europe’s leading turnaround cruise port, with four dedicated terminals, handling 1.7 million passengers a year. Enjoying 450 cruise calls each year from the likes of P&O, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise Lines  It is also a minor port for commuter ferries serving destinations linking the city centre of Southampton to Hythe and the nearby island of the Isle of Wight.


The container terminal is operated by DP World Southampton, which is a leading operator of such terminals around the world. This unit handles over 1 million containers a year. At present, loading and unloading operations can be performed at the same time on four large deep-sea container ships, plus one smaller ship of around 150m in length.

This container terminal is Britain’s second largest deep sea terminal, after that at Felixstowe. Also due to upgrading of the rail link between the port and the ABP terminal in Birmingham, it is possible to tranship by rail bigger than standard containers to most major cities in the UK or to Europe via the Channel Tunnel.

Amongst the shipping lines that make use of the terminal include Hyundai Merchant Marine, United Arab Shipping Company and HAPAG LLOYD.


Currently Southampton RORO (Roll On Roll Off) terminal handles around 900,000 vehicles each year, including those both imported and exported. Since the UK is not only a major car market, but also an important exporter of cars for the likes of Nissan, Ford and BMW.

This facility is designed to handle all types and sizes of vessel and roro cargoes, including heavy-wheeled vehicles. Southampton is a regular stop for both major deep-sea and short-sea RORO (Roll-on/roll-off) lines, such as those owned by  Hoegh Autoliners, which is the world’s largest pure car and truck carrier (PCTC), and global RORO logistics operators Wallenius Wilhelmsen and Grimaldi.

This RORO facility has over 80 hectares of  dedicated vehicle storage and distribution compounds, which are rail-connected to receive regular specialist trains and some have adjacent deep-water berthing. In addition it has five dedicated multi-storey car parks used for vehicle storage in the Eastern Docks.

In addition, this RORO terminal offers such services as pre-delivery inspections and vehicle-enhancement work.

ABP aerial shoot Southampton Docks
ABP aerial shoot Southampton Docks

General Cargo


Its Canary Islands Fruit Terminal is operated by Solent Stevedores provides 14,500 sq. m of cool and cold storage space, with a temperature range of -2°C to +15°C. In addition, it has deep-water berths able to accommodate two ships simultaneously.

The main storage areas of the building now features energy-efficient lights, rapid-action doors, multiple storage compartments, and a brand new energy efficient cooling system that can operate at different temperatures in different parts of the building.  This facility supports a team of over 40 specialist fruit packing operatives.

For the past 120 years, Southampton has been the only port in the UK that has specialised on importing fresh produce direct from Spain’s Canary Islands. The year-round mild Atlantic climate of the Canary Islands provides the ideal conditions to grow tomatoes, peppers, avocados and cucumbers, while Southampton has specialist facilities dedicated to the trade. Last year the Canary Islands Fruit Terminal at Western Docks handled nearly 81,000 tonnes of produce through 79 ship calls to the Canary Islands Fruit Terminal at Western Docks.

Dry bulks

Solent Stevedores has a long-term concession to operate the dry bulks terminal based alongside deep water in the Western Docks, the 24-acre dry bulks terminal, with good road and rail links to the rest of UK. The Facility handles some 1.3 million tons each year of dry bulk cargo.


At present the main business of Southampton’s liquid bulk traffic is crude oil, handled by Exxon Mobil refinery and petrochemical complex at Fawley and by BP at Hamble. In 2015 just over 23 million tonnes of liquid bulk products were handled through the liquid bulk facilities located within the harbour authority area.


Southampton has attracted the likes of offshore wind developers like Vestas involved in developing English Channel offshore wind projects.

Amongst the nearest offshore wind projects to be developed, are located some 35 and 60 miles east and west of the nearby Isle of Wight. The attraction for offshore wind developers is the Southampton Port ability to offer skilled engineering services and sheltered deep-water big port facilities.

For instance, Vestas the Danish Offshore manufacturer has located new facilities in the outer harbour area. These include the new blade painting and logistics facility at Fawley on the mainland. And on the Isle of Wight an advanced manufacturing facility exists, where 80m blades are manufactured.

What Next?

As for the future in the many trades that Southampton deals with including deep sea containerships and cruise liners, the vessels are getting bigger as vessel operators seeks to meet increasing demand and cut unit costs. Because of this port operators such as ABP are have to continue to develop and expand port capacity infrastructure to handle such mega vessels.

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