The Port of Ipswich is often overlooked, even by Ipswich residents, because Felixstowe dominates not only in its claims about size but also in the amount of traffic it generates. But the Port of Ipswich is important on a national scale, not for containers but for mixed and bulk cargoes.
The port handles over 3 million tonnes of cargo each year; its strength is its diversity. Ipswich is the UK's leading grain exporter handling some three quarters of a million tonnes. Grain is a typical 'bulk', as are fertilisers, animal feedstuff, organic peas and rice.
Ipswich is one of the UK's top timber ports with a strong tradition in unloading Baltic and Scandinavian timber; timber is handled for Northern Wood, West Bank Timber, Anglo Norden, Ridgeons and Bill Rees. Timber also comes in from North America. In January 9,500 cubic metres were shipped in a single load aboard the Orfea sailing from Canada for Price & Pierce Softwoods. This timber was loaded at Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior. The ship is now expected to be a regular caller at Ipswich.
ABP (Associated British Ports) have invested considerable sums to make provision for storage of agribulks and minerals, and last year some 400,000 tonnes were offloaded. The re-opening of the rail link to the West Bank enables Brett to transfer sea dredged and other aggregates inland by train. And to really concrete the story, the increase in bulk powder for Southern Cement is another rapidly increasing business.
When the big container ships arrive at Felixstowe they are reluctant to stack empties on top of the full containers they are hoping to unload at their next port of call (it would necessitate double handling and delay). Instead Ipswich Port has built a considerable trade in uploading empties on to smaller ships for transhipment to near-Europe where they are transferred on to the larger vessel once the full containers have been unloaded.
The Society remains concerned however by the reluctance of China to receive, and the shipping companies to return, empty containers for re-use. In some cases it is cheaper to build new ones in China than to ship empty containers back home. It could be argued that this is no worse than the fate of the cardboard boxes inside those containers - but, then, these should also be re-cycled or re-used.