Launch of first shipping link between North West and North African port

Port of Liverpool

The first shipping connection direct between the North West and Agadir, in Morocco, is starting this month.

Shipping operator, WEC Lines, is introducing a new direct service between Agadir and the Port of Liverpool, offering a fast and green alternative for fresh produce importers to overland trucking.

It is aimed at taking advantage of Morocco overtaking Spain as one of the biggest suppliers of tomatoes to the UK.

Roger Megann, WEC Lines managing director, said: “There’s a gap in the market here for wholesalers and supermarkets that want a choice for how they get fresh produce to the UK, because now they’ve only one option.

“We’re getting strong indications that there’s a demand for an alternative that reduces carbon emission, cost, and takes virtually the same amount of time.”

The service will use WEC’s existing fleet of vessels, operating around 850 to1000 TEU (20ft equivalent unit containers). Some of these vessels are already used to ship UK refrigerated goods to tourists and ex-pat residents in the Canary Islands.

They will now extend their route via Agadir before returning to the UK, with the potential for reefers to load in Spain and Portugal in addition to the dry cargoes.

Ian Cressey, port director at Peel Ports’ Port of Liverpool, said: “So many of the big wholesalers and retailers have their distribution centres in the North West, so it makes sense to ship the produce straight here, rather than clogging up the UK and mainland Europe’s roads.

“Every container of fresh produce on a vessel is one more lorry avoiding unnecessary journeys, especially when you consider that many of the return trips will be empty.”

To support the service, WEC is taking delivery of around 50 additional refrigerated units and is expecting to add further units to the fleet in the next phase.

Last year, Peel Ports surveyed more than 2,000 retail leaders. Three-quarters (76%) of participants stated they would opt to import goods closer to end destinations if they were given a choice on their port of entry by shipping lines, while 68% felt a better choice of ports would improve supply chain efficiencies.

The research also found that more than half of retail leaders (51%) experience delays or bottlenecks in the supply chain, with almost a fifth (19%) claiming these delays are frequent. Most retail leaders (68%) felt importing goods via the North of England would help to prevent this.