The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company is the port authority for the Port of Liverpool. Peel Ports Group, Britain's second-biggest ports group, owns and operates the Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal. Together, the Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal handle 15 thousand vessel movements and over 40 million tons of cargo per year. They are a gateway to a region with over 120 thousand industrial and commercial interests and a population as large as that of Greater London. Once fierce rivals, the Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal operate as a single unit under Peel Ports.
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MHDC) is the statutory harbor authority for the Port of Liverpool and the Birkenhead Docks with responsibility for the navigational safety and environmental health of the River Mersey between the Warrington Bridge and the outer port. The MHDC provides pilotage and vessel traffic services for vessels using the port. It maintains the port's navigational buoys, lights, channels, and moorings and provides tidal, hydrographic, and other information to port users. The MHDC also owns and operates the Port of Liverpool's enclosed dock systems accessed by the river entrances at Langton and Gladstone Locks and at the Birkenhead Alfred Lock. All vessels over 100 thousand DWT must use a Second Pilot, and smaller vessels may be required to have a second pilot.
The Port of Liverpool is one of the busiest container ports in Britain and Northern Europe, handling almost 700 thousand TEUs of containerized cargo per year. Its main trade partner at this time is North America, but its trade relationships are growing with ports in China, India, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, and South America. The Port of Liverpool leads United Kingdom ports in the import of grain and animal feeds and in the export of recycled metal. It is also the main port handling freight movements between Ireland and Britain.
On both banks of the River Mersey, the Port of Liverpool contains over 485 hectares of operational docks that handle general cargo, timber and forest products, crude oil, coal, edible oils and fats, cocoa, copper, steel, granite, aluminum and other metals, and chemicals. The Port of Liverpool is also a popular cruise ship destination and a busy ferry port for people traveling the Irish Sea.
The Port of Liverpool contains the United Kingdom's biggest free zone. The 383-hectare Liverpool Freeport at the Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks contains almost 28 hectares of warehousing and will soon contain an additional 3.7 hectares. Liverpool Freeport is the biggest and busiest free port in Britain. Operating from the Liverpool Intermodal Freeport Terminal, hundreds of large and small companies are either located in or use the Freeport's highly-secured facilities.
The Port of Liverpool's Royal Seaforth Container Terminal contains four deep-sea berths and six ship-to-shore gantry cranes that handle about 700 thousand TEUs per year. A second container terminal with capacity to handle 500 thousand TEUs per year is planned that will accommodate the latest post-Panamax container vessels and double the port's capacity to 1.5 million TEUs.
In the interim, the Royal Seaforth Container Terminal has employed a pusher tug barge operation that links the terminal with the Irlam inland container terminal on the Manchester Ship Canal. Offering an alternative for the movement of goods on the country's congested road network, the tug barge operation, with capacity for 160 TEUs per trip, should remove from eight to ten thousand containers (carrying cargoes that include molasses, construction materials, wines, and foodstuffs) from the roads.
Each year, the Port of Liverpool handles more than 40% of all cargo and over half a million passengers traveling the Irish Sea between Ireland and the Britain. The Port of Liverpool operates eight roll-on/roll-off ferry services for freight and passengers that make daily trips from Liverpool to Dublin and Belfast. Norfolk Line, P&O Ferries, and Seatruck operate the ferry services. Coastal Container Line also operates a daily container service to Dublin and an every-other-day service to Belfast.
Moving two million tons per year, the Port of Liverpool imports more grain and animal feed than any other port in the United Kingdom. The Royal Seaforth Grain Terminal is the biggest import facility in the country, containing three on-site mills and total silo capacity for 168 thousand tons of cargo. The Port of Liverpool also plays an important role in the supply chains of the country's best-known food manufacturers.
The Port of Liverpool imports over 250 thousand tons of forest products each year from around the world. The port also exports forest products like newsprint to Spain. Forest products include reel and palletized paper, palletwood, pulp, joinery timber, and panel products.
The Port of Liverpool handles millions of tons of dry bulk cargoes that include coal imports for generating power and scrap metal exports for recycling and steel mills across the globe. Access to the nation's rail networks makes this a growing sector of the ports trade as it transports imports and exports that include cocoa, fertilizers, aggregates, and chemicals. The Port of Liverpool handles more than 4.5 million tons of dry bulk cargoes per year and looks forward to significant growth in this area.
Almost 40% of the total 42 million tons of cargo the Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal handle each year is liquid bulk cargo. The port receives crude oil going to Shell's Stanlow Refinery. It also handles chemicals and edible oils.
General cargo is a mainstay in the Port of Liverpool's business, with more than 500 thousand tons of general cargo passing through the port. Cargoes include steel product, fertilizers, and food. Food cargoes have recently been increased by the construction of a 9 thousand square meter cool store for fresh fruit and vegetable imports at the Royal Seaforth Dock.
The Port of Liverpool enjoys growing cruise traffic. In 2009, some 25 cruise vessels were expected to arrive at the Langton Cruise Terminal to carry passengers to the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, another many other destinations. Passengers arriving at the Port of Liverpool come to see one of Europe's 2008 Capitals of Culture. Another 15 luxury vessels used the Pier Head, which was opened in 2007, delivering passengers directly to the city center. The new Pier Head can accommodate vessels to 345 meters long with draft of 10 meters. Cruise traffic has grown from a scant three sailings in 1992.