Under the ownership of Peel Ports, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool operate as one. The River Mersey Estuary is England’s third busiest estuary, carrying over 40 million tons of cargo and 15 thousand vessel calls per year. Peel Ports operates the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool as one. In 2007, it launched a regular shuttle services with barges moving containers between Liverpool and Manchester’s Irlam Container Terminal as an alternative to inland rail and road transport.
The Manchester Ship Canal Company is the Canal’s statutory harbor authority, and it manages ship movements along the Canal from its Eastham lock control room. Berths and terminals run the length of the canal, including maritime clusters at Ellesmere Port, Irlam, Runcorn Docks, and Salford. Major cargoes moving through the Canal include containers, oils, grain, coal, and chemicals. Many well-known companies use the Canal including Shell, Proctor and Gamble, Tesco, Cerestar, Castrol, Kingsland Wines, and Rank Hovis.
Since it opened in 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal has carried a wide variety of cargoes and ships. The first ship to unload cargo, and the first vessel registered at Manchester, was the Pioneer, owned by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. The Society ran weekly shipments to the Port of Rouen in France.
It took time and the effort of Manchester Liners, a locally-based passenger and cargo shipping company, to bring regular traffic from large ocean-going vessels. Late in 1898, the largest vessel to reach the docks was the Manchester City, carrying almost eight thousand gross tons of general cargo and cattle into the city. It was met by the mayor and a large crowd.
The Manchester Ship Canal handled 2.9 million tons of dry cargo in 1974, 27% of that being carried by Manchester Liners. Today, petroleum products add to the cargo of dry tonnage handled through Manchester’s docks. While most British canals have been nationalized, the Manchester Ship Canal was not. In 1991, it became the property of Peel Holdings. Today, the Manchester Ship Canal is owned and operated by Peel Ports, also owners of the Port of Liverpool.
Today, many ocean-going vessels are too big to fit into the canal. Combined with the decline in manufacturing in the United Kingdom, the amount of cargo carried through the Port of Manchester has decreased to about six million tons a year. Ships using the canal dock at many different places on the Manchester Ship Canal rather than at the traditional nine Manchester Docks (that were closed in 1982).
In 2007, retail chain Tesco began using the Manchester Ship Canal to transport wines between Liverpool and Manchester, saving the company over a million kilometers of road transport per year.
The Manchester Ship Canal is open today to leisure craft traveling the Shropshire Union Canal, the Weaver Navigation, and the Bridgewater Canal. However, the safety regulations for this commercial waterway discourage recreational travel on the canal.