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UK Shipping Ports

Written by Jessica Polden on .

The UK economy is the seventh largest in the world and domestic UK ports play a vital role in the UK economy.  UK ports are amongst the most competitive and efficient in the world, they handle over 95% of UK imports and exports and in 2008, the value of trade through British ports was around £340 billion.  Although the global recession during 2009 and 2010 has had an impact on the amount of traffic through ports in the UK, domestic ports and shipping still make a sizeable contribution to the UK economy.

The Ships Atlas - Map 20
Britain and Ireland

In the 10 years between 1998 and 2008, UK ports have seen an increase in imports by 27% and a decrease in exports by 14%. Although UK shipping traffic has fallen by 21% between 1998 and 2008, the overall increase in imports provides greater UK port and shipping opportunities for incoming goods, as well as providing key and enhanced UK port services to the EU and global shipping organisations.  EU shipping traffic is a key part of UK port traffic; in 2008, 75% of UK major port traffic was either to or from foreign ports; 53% of which was within the EU; 17% was to or from other short-sea countries; and 30% was deep-sea traffic.

UK ports and port authorities not only have to ensure that freight and passenger traffic navigate safely in and out of their ports and onward by shipping, road and rail routes in the UK, but they also have a regulatory and legal duty to ensure the safe passage of all vessels, both freight and passenger. UK ports also have a statutory responsibility to protect the marine environment and ensuring the security and safety of all of their port operations. In addition, they have a responsibility to provide high levels of services and facilities to enable freight and passengers to berth safely and to protect cargoes and goods.

The UK port sector is heavily focused on container traffic.  In 2008 alone, UK ports handled almost 600 million tonnes of freight and over 67 million passenger journeys.  As well as freight, many UK ports handle Roll On-Roll Off (ro-ro) traffic, including passenger and cruise ferries.  Despite increasing passenger volumes using quicker methods of transport like the Eurostar and planes, sea passenger traffic is stable and growing at a healthy rate.

Container traffic remains the strongest port traffic.  There has been an increase of 40% in dry bulk (such as coal and forest products) passing in and out of UK ports since 1990.  Some UK ports can also offer a timber treatment facility to protect timber from decay and damage using environmentally friendly treatment processes.  Also shipped are agribulk goods including grain exports, fresh produce and perishables including frozen food and fishing cargo imports and exports to and from the EU.

Minerals, ores, iron and steel and other metals are also transported in and out of UK ports.  Unsuprisingly therefore, industries relying on these goods, e.g. the car industry rely heavily on UK shipping through ports.  Manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Audi, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Opel use UK ports to import and export their automobile parts and vehicles around the UK, EU and globally.

For the petroleum industry, UK ports play a key role in transporting crude oil and petroleum products around the UK.  More than 250 million tonnes of oil products and liquefied natural gas moved through UK ports in 2008.

UK ports are not only vital to the majority of UK industries but what's more they are the backbone of regional and local communities, in so far that they generate extensive employment throughout the UK.  A recent government study found that ports directly employed around 73,500 people.  Research commissioned by the Port of London showed that their terminals and related shipping activities and services generated more than 46,000 full time jobs alone.  Indirectly, there are a huge range of jobs linked to the port industry that include manufacturing workers, cargo handlers, drivers, warehouse staff and ships’ agents.

General Information for United Kingdom


Capital City: London
Nationality: (noun) Briton, (adjective) British
Population: 61,113,205

For more UK general port information visit findaport.com



International Direct Dial Code: 44
Number of Internal Airports: 307
Major Languages Spoken: English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish, form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland).


Currency: 1 Pound Sterling (GBP) of 100 Pence.
Exchange Rates: (as of May 2008)
US$ 1.00 = GBP 0.50
GBP 1.00 = US$ 1.98
(Exchange rates under licence from XE.com)
Main Industries: Machine tools, electric power equipment, automation equipment, railroad equipment, shipbuilding, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, electronics and communications equipment, metals, chemicals, coal, petroleum, paper and paper products, food processing, textiles, clothing and other consumer goods


Territorial Sea: 12 n.m.
Other Maritime Claims: Continental Shelf: as defined in continental shelf orders or in accordance with agreed upon boundaries. Exclusive Fishing Zone: 200 n.m.
Coastline Extent: 12,429 km.
Climate: Temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast.
Natural Resources: Coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, lead, zinc, gold, tin, limestone, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, potash, silica sand, slate and arable land.
Natural Hazards: Winter windstorms; floods.
Terrain: Mostly rugged hills and low mountains; level to rolling plains in east and southeast.




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