Plan for Foynes port to capitalise on new era of global ‘supertankers’

Gerard Fitzgibbon


Gerard Fitzgibbon

REVIVING the disused Foynes-Limerick rail line, the construction of a new jetty at Foynes port and the upgrade of the N69 are all key steps towards securing a new economic footing for the Mid West, the Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC) believes.

REVIVING the disused Foynes-Limerick rail line, the construction of a new jetty at Foynes port and the upgrade of the N69 are all key steps towards securing a new economic footing for the Mid West, the Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC) believes.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar launched last Friday the ‘Vision 2041’ master plan for Foynes, which the port company believe could facilitate upwards of €2 billion in investment in the Shannon region and see the creation of up to 2,000 new jobs over the next three decades.

The crux of the plan is the domino effect that the widening of the Panama canal, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, is likely to have on international commercial shipping, and how Foynes may be poised to capitalise on the rollout of 80,000 tonne ‘supertankers’ in the future.

Michael Collins, chairman of the SFPC, said that while “inward investment into the Shannon region has been neglected” over the last 40 years, the new master plan could “convert the opportunity and attract the scale of investment to the Shannon Estuary that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s”.

The document, which was launched at an event at the Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum, predicts a 25% increase in direct employment at the port, an 8% growth in annual tonnage and a 353% growth in heavy goods traffic to and from Foynes over the next thirty years.

It also outlines a vision of growth in new and existing heavy industries in the Shannon Estuary, based on maximising the natural deep water channel, which could create anything up to 2,000 direct and indirect jobs across the region.

The nub of the ambitious plan is an expectation that when the widening of the Panama canal is completed in 2015, it will herald a new era of supertankers which will require deeper harbours.

Foynes, with a natural depth of up to 20 metres, is the only commercial port in the country which can accommodate vessels of this size. Major shore ports like Cork and Dublin, in order to do likewise, would require costly regular dredging of their harbour beds.

At present, 37% of Ireland’s bulk shipping traffic comes through the Shannon Estuary, a figure the SFPC hope to see doubled over the next thirty years.

The first action in the plan to expand operations at Foynes port will begin in 2015, with an extension of the east jetty. The project will create 150 temporary construction jobs.

However the SFPC acknowledge in the plan that if Foynes is to become the port of first entry for commercial shipping in Ireland, it will require a major upgrade of the local infrastructure network. The master plan predicts that there will be an extra 1,370 truck journeys in and out of the port per day by 2041.

The document says that while the port company’s priority was once a connector road between the N69 and main N21 Dublin road, the stalled bypass of Adare and the “deterioration of traffic conditions on the N21” has made an upgrade of the existing N69 to and from Foynes more desirable.

Likewise, the SFPC believes that a “modest” investment of €12 million could re-open the Foynes-Limerick rail line, which has been dormant since 2000. Re-opening the line, the company believes, would allow commercial goods to enter the national rail network “at a point where existing flows are low”, and there would be no disruption to passenger rail services. Work on the re-opening the line, the plan states, could be completed in as little as nine months.

The document also claims that Foynes port will require an additional 127 hectares of port development land in the future, which could be interpreted as a pitch by SFPC to some of the property portfolio of the soon-to-be-dissolved Shannon Development.

Likewise, the company believe that over 9,000 square metres of new warehousing will be needed in the next thirty years, while over 5,000 square metres of existing warehousing will need to be upgraded or replaced.

Pat Keating, chief executive of the port company, said that the Vision 2041 document can run in tandem with the recently-published Shannon Estuary strategic integrated framework plan (SIFP), which has drawn on the input of Clare, Limerick and Kerry county councils and has identified key development sites along the length of the estuary.

“Industries with bulk shipping requirements need deep water for shipping of raw materials in and products out.

“Our intention is to ensure that more of this investment is secured on the estuary and for the region in the future.

“Having a strategic master plan such as Vision 2041, together with the SIFP, sets out a road map for that”.