One of Portsmouth International Port's most complex engineering projects, undertaken during a period of significant challenge, has resulted in welcoming the largest cruise ship to ever sail into Portsmouth with the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas on Friday 10 July.
Completion of the port's multi-million pound berth extension means it can now manage larger ships, evidenced by Majesty of the Seas at 268m. Weighing in at over 73,000 GT, in tonnage this is the largest ship the city has seen and demonstrates the capabilities now available at Portsmouth International Port.
Mike Sellers Portsmouth International Port's director said: "This is a major milestone for our ambitions. When we embarked on the construction we knew it was a complex development.
"Operating in a marine environment always poses significant challenges, for what can appear a straightforward project.
"When the pandemic arrived we were well into the work and any delays would have had a significant impact.
"As a lifeline port it's critical we can accommodate a range of ships and we needed our berth back in action as soon as possible.
"Little did we know as soon the berth was ready for service, we'd have the largest cruise ship the city has seen alongside.
"Everyone in the ports industry has stepped up to support one another where possible, and we're pleased we could support Royal Caribbean International. Ports have a vital role to play in the economic recovery of the country, if we can operate successfully that has an impact on everyone else getting back to business as usual."
Investment in the port's infrastructure is part of an ambitious strategy to continue growth as a leading player in the maritime industry and one of the UK's most sustainable ports.
Ben McInnes Portsmouth International Port's harbour master said: "The redevelopment of our berth opens doors to ships not seen in Portsmouth before, as demonstrated by today's arrival.
"This was comprehensive operation for the largest commercial ship we have seen, with two tugs and two pilots on board to make sure safety was at the forefront.
"Future passengers using our new berth will be spoilt by the sights the harbour provides, from historic vessels such as HMS Warrior, to the latest HMS Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
"With these attractions and our new berth, we're on track to become a world class passenger facility and destination."
The berth previously had a sloped level making it particularly challenging for accessing certain ships, the essential levelling work and creation of an additional dolphin - a fixed, permanent structure, separate to the berth, which acts as an extension for mooring - now means larger ships can be safely handled at the port.
Hernan Zini Royal Caribbean International's vice president, port operations said: “During these unprecedented times we’re glad we have ports such as Portsmouth whose investment has meant the ships that are unexpectedly in the region can use these facilities to ensure our ships are supplied and our crew are able to transfer home.
"We’re using several ports along the South Coast of England to support calls of all of our vessels and we look forward to welcoming guests back on soon”
Anisa Koci, Portsmouth International Port's project manager for the scheme said:"I am delighted and ever so proud to see Majesty of the Seas moored alongside our new extended berth here at Portsmouth International Port.
"The levelling and extension of No 2 berth alongside the installation of the new dolphin structure (approximately 30m offset seaside from dolphin No 2) has been a great project to deliver but at the same time has had many challenges to overpass.
"Gaining approval only in January 2019, this scheme was programme driven and this made it even more challenging. With only five months to sketch the project and appoint a contractor to then start the construction works in November 2019, it seems like a mirage seeing the largest ship we have ever had being alongside the new pier.
"The new extended deck with the size of two football stadiums in length was constructed on top of tubular piles (30-60 tonne each) that were driven through by one of the largest hammers in UK. More than 1000 cubic metre concrete was poured on the extension of the pier to give the structure the required strength to approach ships the size of Majesty of the Seas.
"Undertaking the works in a live marine environment and during the winter months required a truly collaborative approach between Portsmouth International Port and Knights Brown to successfully deliver the project.
"The pandemic did hit this project even before reaching the UK as one of the critical elements of the scheme, the fenders, were being manufactured in Malaysia. This had a significant impact on the project programme of works.
"The robust, windy winter and the two storms in autumn did certainly extend the list of challenges, especially when essential parts of the project included heavyweight operations like the installation of the 61 tonne carousel structure at dolphin No 3 and the partial demolition and removal of the existing finger berth structure."
Bryan Kennedy, Divisional Director for Knights Brown said: “Little could we have foreseen the additional challenges we would be presented with when we were awarded the design and construct contract to lower and extend the berth in September.
"At that time the priority was completing the works ahead of the new cruise season. Although the reason changed, the urgency to complete the contract did not. Our team has delivered a technically challenging project despite the difficulties brought about by the pandemic.
"I am particularly proud not only of our response to the exceptional circumstances but also our execution of the most challenging aspects. Notably lifting in the 60t prefabricated steel carousel structure, and deconstructing the capping beam with some sections being lifted out weighing as much as 70 tons. We’ve worked on two fronts simultaneously to minimise the programme with marine operations based off a spud leg barge, and worked with some pretty impressive equipment, including a 330t crawler crane, the largest hydraulic pile driving hammer in the UK, and a supply barge. On the landside, we had 160t and 80t crawler cranes.”
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson Leader of Portsmouth City Council said: "Our harbour has witnessed many historic moments, and the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, is yet another to add to the list.
"Portsmouth International Port is a vital economic driver for the city, making a valuable contribution towards essential services.
"This investment and completion of the berth extension means more opportunities to welcome a range of ships, helping to support the city bounce back after the impact of the pandemic."