Record tonnages give Mersey Docks a lift

TOM STEVENSON

Deputy City Editor

Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, which is locked in an increasingly bitter battle for trade in the Irish Sea, received a boost yesterday when it announced record tonnages through its Liverpool and Medway ports.

Group tonnage, up 5.5 per cent to 15.7 million tonnes, helped to lift pre-tax profits in the six months to June by 5.5 per cent to pounds 16.8m.

The shares, which have almost tripled in value since the company's privatisation in 1989, closed 9p higher at 439p.

Gordon Waddell, chairman, said: "We performed satisfactorily in the first six months, despite difficult trading condit- ions. Progress should be maintained in the second half."

Mersey Docks, which added the Medway Ports to its portfolio in a controversial 1993 takeover, confirmed it is building a pounds 16.5m roll-on, roll-off ferry terminal at Liverpool's Trafalgar Dock. Its project received a boost last month when the Government delayed payment of an pounds 8m subsidy to Forth Ports, which is planning a rival project in the Mersey.

Mersey Docks has said it will fund its planned berth from its own resources and is well placed to beat Forth in the race to be the first to complete a time-saving roro terminal.

Merseyside Development Corporation, the government regeneration agency supporting Forth's application for European funds to subsidise its planned project, believes market growth will mean room for both. Mersey Docks and other freight operators doubt that.

Container traffic at the Port of Liverpool increased in the first six months by 22 per cent to 202,000 20ft equivalent units. Other trades to improve in the period included grain and animal feedstuffs, making up for worse performances from timber and metals.

At Medway, pounds 17.6m was invested in projects including the development of a fresh produce terminal at Sheerness, while terminals at Dublin and Cardiff were developed by Coastal Container Line, Mersey's 62.5 per cent- owned subsidiary.

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