Port of Le Havre
Review and History

The Port of Le Havre lies on the right bank of the Seine estuary as it enters the English Channel about 106 nautical miles south-southeast of Southampton in Great Britain. The Port of Le Havre is also located some 216 kilometers west-northwest of Paris and 85 kilometers west of the Port of Rouen. In 2004, some 184 thousand people lived in the Port of Le Havre.

The Port of Le Havre is France's second port after Marseille. Much of the traffic passing through the Port of Le Havre is crude oil, but the Port of Le Havre is also important for its ship repairs and its ferry services to England and Ireland. The Port of Le Havre supports a large industrial zone that contains oil-refining, chemical, petrochemical, cement, automotive, and aeronautical industries. The Port of Le Havre contains growing service and administrative sectors and a growing tourist trade.

Port History

In the early 16th Century, the Port of Le Havre was little more than a fishing village. In 1517, King Francois I constructed a harbor there that he called Havre-de-Grace. The King sought to enter the international trade arena and to protect the Seine Estuary which had been under attack and/or occupied by the English for over 200 years.

Located on a peninsula formed by the meeting of offshore sand bars and pebble beaches, the new Port of Le Havre was easy for ships to access. The new port contained a 64-meter long quay and a canal that connected the new port to the older, silting port at Harfleur some six kilometers inland. A citadel and fortifications were erected around the harbor in the 16th Century, but little else changed in the Port of Le Havre.

Louis XIV and Cardinal Richelieu fortified and expanded the Port of Le Havre I the 17th Century. The old citadel was replaced in 1627, and an arsenal was added. The King's basin was reserved for the Royal Navy, and several hundred ships were constructed in the Port of Le Havre through 1823. In 1669, the canal to Harfleur opened, opening the way for industries along the river.

The cod trade attracted ship-owners to the Port of Le Havre during the 17th Century. During the 18th Century, cargo traffic became more diverse, including a booming slave trade, and the Port of Le Havre became quite prosperous by the time of the 1789 French Revolution. As France entered the 19th Century, trade boomed in the Port of Le Havre, and the need for a more modern port became apparent.

Louis XVI ordered further expansions in the 18th Century so that the Port of Le Havre could accommodate larger vessels. Still, military concerns had priority over commerce during the 18th Century. Development of the Port of Rouen brought commerce to the forefront as the ports in Harfleur and Leure declined. Merchants and ship-owners in Rouen came to depend more on the Port of Le Havre as an outport, as larger vessels could not sail up the River Seine.

With the return of peace after the 19th Century French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire, trade increased dramatically in the Port of Le Havre. The Port of Le Havre naval base and arsenal were transferred, and commerce became the primary business of the port. The Commercial Bassin du Commerce and the Bassin de la Barre came into operation in the 1820s, and the outer harbor was extended to the southeast. A new sluice-dock was added.

From 1825 until 1865, the capacity of ocean-going vessels doubled, and steamships began to call at the Port of Le Havre. New port facilities were required, and the Port of Le Havre decided to expand to the east. The Vauban Basin was built in the early 1840s, and the Leure Basin opened in 1958. In 1845, the Port of Le Havre's entry was widened from 32 to 45 meters, and the Florida Basin was built in 1947. In the early 1860s, the Transatlantic lock and the New York Quay were built.

Despite these ambitious expansions, the capacity of ocean-going vessels doubled again, and new expansions were necessary in the Port of Le Havre. The Bellot Basin came into operation in 1887, forming (with the Leure Basin) the "great basins." The Tancarville canal came into service, and railways arrived at the Port of Le Havre in 1847. In 174, the port entry was again widened to 100 meters with the demolition of the Francois I tower.

New modern facilities appeared in the Port of Le Havre. No. 4 dry dock was completed in 1864. New hangars were opened in 1870, and several new land-based and floating cranes were acquired after 1886. The Vauban canal was at first developed for industry, and the Tancarville canal soon followed. In 1871, the Citadel Basin opened, after the ancient citadel was demolished, and connected by a modest lock to the outport.

An 1895 law authorized a new Port of Le Havre outport between the North and South seawalls, a new tidal quay, and a one-stage lock. Work was completed on these new features in 1914. A 1989 law ordered the construction of a large tidal dock, 1000-meter long quay, and a dry dock for liners. The work on these items was completed in 1929.

Between World War I and World War II, the volume of general cargo passing through the Port of Le Havre increased. The port was visited by ever-larger liners, and oil traffic increased dramatically. Finally in 1925, the Port of Le Havre gained the status of a port authority with a specific budget. Lacking sufficient resources, construction and operation of new port infrastructure in the tidal dock was given by concession to the Compagnie Industrielle Maritime.

After 1925, new Port of Le Havre oil terminals began operating along the southern seawall, and a large oil refinery was established in Gonfreville Orcher in 1933. Between 1929 and 1935, new berths for liners and large cargo vessels were added to the 1000-meter western quay.

During the Second World War, the government of Belgium was located for a time in the Port of Le Havre after Antwerp and Ostend fell to Nazi Germany. Sadly, World War II brought near-total destruction to the Port of Le Havre. During the war, as much as 75% of the city was destroyed. The 17th Century Church of Notre-Dame was damaged, but it survived the war to be restored in the 1970s. Rebuilding the city and port was a huge task, but it was undertaken with fervor.

After the war, Port of Le Havre reconstruction was based an earlier 1939 site plan. The southern bank of the Bellot Basin and the west Joannes Couvert quay became liner quays. Six armored concrete pierhead cofferdams were employed in the reconstruction, which was completed in 1965 with the Pondichery quay.

In 1950, the Port of Le Havre handled about 10 million tons of cargo. During the 1960s, the Port of Le Havre faced new challenges: new technologies like containers and roll-on/roll-off cargoes and the explosion in energy-related traffic. By 1973, the port was handling almost 90 million tons of cargo per year.

From 1966 until 1971, the Port of Le Havre's tidal dock was extended, the southeastern inner basin was joined by canal with the channel of Tancarville, and the maritime Francois I lock was expanded to accommodate ore tankers. New industrial complexes were established in the Port of Le Havre area, and new port terminals were constructed at the tidal dock and the inner basin.

In 1968, the Port of Le Havre handled less than one hundred thousand TEUs of containerized cargo. Three decades later, that number reached two million. Energy-related cargoes also increased dramatically during the 1970s. Crude oil cargoes increased from ten million tons in 1960 to over 70 million tons in 1973. New oil shipping facilities were added at the tidal dock in 1976 and on the southern bank of the large channel for ships to 180 thousand tons in 1984. A new specialized independent terminal for oil that could accommodate modern supertankers was added at Antifer in 1976.

By the end of the 20th Century, the Port of Le Havre had acquired cargo-handling equipment to deal with the wide range of cargoes arriving at port. Container gantries, jumbo terrestrial derricks, and hangars appeared. A new floating dock with capacity to lift 50 thousand tons was added at the Port of Le Havre for naval repairs. At the same time, the ship-building facilities at the Port of Le Havre that had flourished for over 150 years began to disappear. By 1999, no new ships were being built in the Port of Le Havre.

The 21st Century brings a new era of development to the Port of Le Havre. By 2007, new gantry cranes with heavy-lift capacity, harbor cranes, and railway gantries had been acquired. The Carrier Center, covering 70 hectares, offered five new stations for sea traffic, two new stations for river barges, and a railway building. Due to the tragic events of September 2001, tight security measures for maritime traffic going to the United States were implemented.

Port 2000, dedicated to container traffic, was conceived to offer ultra-modern infrastructure and 12 new berthing stations in the Port of Le Havre with a total length of over four kilometers. The first phase, with four new stations of more than 1.4 thousand kilometers, began operating in April 2006 at the Le Havre Quay. The Port of Le Havre's Port 2000 will be sheltered by two external dams so that it can accommodate the largest container vessels. The first stations will have depth for vessels with 14.5 meters of draft.

The Port of Le Havre's Port 2000 terminals will be served by a road door, the Francois I Door, and rail tracks. The first operational terminal in Port 2000 is the Terminal of France. Equipped with six super-Panamax gantry cranes and a railway gantry, the Terminal of France includes two berthing stations with an optional third station. The second new terminal, the Terminal Carries Oceane (TPO), opened in 2007. The TPO includes two 300-meter berthing stations and an option for a third station.

Future developments in the Port of Le Havre will not be limited to Port 2000. Among the planned expansions and improvements are:

  • development of energy-related facilities,
  • expansion of the large channel to assure safe passage of traffic,
  • doubling the Francois I lock to facilitate access to the industrial harbor zone,
  • reorganizing the inner harbor to create a new container terminal, and
  • enhancing reception capacity through improving logistics services, internal roads and railways, and related services.

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