A multi-million-pound investment in Portsmouth International Port is set to put the city on the global cruise map and further boost the city’s coffers in the process. Kate Thompson found out more when she interviewed Director Mike Sellers. Photos Paul Gonella
“Our ambition is to become a major cruise and ferry port. We want to double the current 50 cruise calls in the next two years, and increase the number of in-bound passengers from France and Spain using ferry services,” explained Director Mike Sellers from his office overlooking the port.
From the moment he set foot on the port, he could sense the untapped potential. His career to date had seen him work in ports on the east coast, and he honed his skills in the private sector.
“I’ve been in ports all my life and I could see straight away that Portsmouth had the potential to be quite a significant port.
“While the port is successful, and currently brings in £8 million to pay for council services, it hasn’t been ambitious enough, and there is an opportunity to bring in even more money to the council,” he said.
In February, the council agreed a £19 million investment package that will pay for the cruise berth to be levelled and extended, as well as upgrading the terminal building so it can deal with increased passenger numbers.
“The changes to the berth will mean we can accommodate cruise ships that are 253m long, compared to 240m, which is what we can currently take.
“Those few metres make a great deal of difference. Currently we have ships with an 800 passenger turnaround and with the extension, we will be able to take ships with a 2,000 turn around capacity.
“We are not trying to compete with Southampton, where they can take the mega-cruise ships. For example, bringing Saga Cruises to Portsmouth is one of our ambitions, and we have another exciting target that I’m not able to talk about currently.
“We are looking to take tourism, transit calls and small ships rather than international turn around cruising,” said Mike.
He believes Portsmouth has plenty to offer cruise visitors, and both local attractions and hotels will benefit from the tourism boom.
Over the recent Easter break, Portsmouth International Port was chosen as the first UK port to debut Viking Cruise Line’s latest ship Viking Sky and Ponant’s mega-yacht L’austral made a maiden call on Easter Monday.
But Mike is also aware of environmental concerns over increased traffic at the port and in particular air quality issues.
His ambition is to attract government funding under the Maritime 2050 strategy to enable the port to become the UK’s first zero emissions port.
“By 2020 all shipping has to comply with new lower emissions targets, and all ships are becoming much greener.
“We are building on some great work that has already happened here. Our terminal building has fantastic sustainable credentials and we are looking at how energy can be generated in the port.
“With the new cruise berth, we will lay ducting so we can move towards shore power. Brittany Ferries have one ship arriving this year that is powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), and three more ferries will be replaced with LNG powered vessels.
“We are exploring the possibility of switching to electric buses to transport passengers to and from the terminal and, installing fast charging points for passenger vehicles as well,” he said.
D-Day – a personal note
As Portsmouth plays host to the D-Day 75th anniversary events, Mike revealed a close family connection.
“We are proud to be playing host to who will depart from the port, carrying 300
D-Day veterans to Normandy, escorted by the Royal Navy.
“On a personal note, I’ve only recently discovered my grandfather was in the first wave who went over to Caen – we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude for what they did,” said Mike.