The Dutch port of Vlissingen has become Ford's gateway to and from Britain for vehicles and components through a new purpose-built ferry terminal which has just been officially opened.

The new facility allows the car maker to integrate the shipment of all its new vehicles and components directly between Vlissingen and the Dagenham plant on the Thames estuary, east of London, which now focuses on diesel engines since Ford-brand car production in Britain stopped a couple of years ago. The new terminal will be operated by the Belgian logistics provider Cobelfret in Antwerp and will be used exclusively by Ford.

It is a two-way operation, with new Jaguar cars en route to Europe and components from British Ford factories destined for European plants travelling to Vlissingen on Cobelfret vessels from the River Thames jetty at the Dagenham plant.

Previously, new Fiesta and Fusion models, destined for the UK and Ireland, have been sent from the assembly plant in Cologne via Rotterdam, with components shipped separately via Zeebrügge in Belgium to Dagenham on the outskirts of east London.

"By integrating the shipment of vehicles and components through one terminal on the continent and basically just one ferry link, we are making things far more efficient, reducing costs and at the same time increasing the quality of our shipping service," said Ford of Europe logistics head Bill Gurmin.

New vehicles are now transported from the Cologne assembly line down the Rhine river (summer drought water levels permitting) on special rollon, roll-off (RoRo) barges to the new terminal in Vlissingen. Each of the five barges can carry around 550 vehicles at a time, totalling a total of 100,000 right-hand drive vehicles annually for the UK and Ireland.

Focus models for the UK and Ireland, from the assembly plant at Saarlouis, arrive by train at the ferry terminal in Vlissingen. Mondeos for Britain, from the Genk plant in Belgium, are also shipped on car trains to Vlissingen; while those destined for Ireland will continue to go by sea from Zeebrügge.

Automotive components are transported by Ford's truck fleet from Cologne to the new terminal. Up to 400 semi-trailers will commute daily between assembly plants in Europe and in the UK, using the Vlissingen-Dagenham link.

Engines from plants at Bridgend, Wales, and Dagenham, transmission units from Halewood near Liverpool and brake discs from Swansea, also in Wales, for instance will all use the new link on their way to the vehicle assembly plants and spare parts depots in Europe. Vehicle parts and components travelling along the tightly-controlled logistics network between the UK and the vehicle assembly lines in Genk, Cologne and Saarlouis, will arrive at their various destinations within 24 hours. In addition, material from automotive component suppliers will be shipped in both directions.

Each year, the 260 Ford fleet drivers in Cologne and Genk, plus subcontracted freight forwarders, will haul a total of 80,000 trailers between the various sites in the UK and the assembly plants in Germany, Belgium, France and other countries in Europe.

Between the terminal at Vlissingen and Dagenham Jetty, Cobelfret will operate four ships, with three sailings a day, each able to carry up to 67 trailers and 545 vehicles on specially designed decks. With 11,854 gross registered tonnes (GRT), these are large vessels with a length of 147 metres. It takes each one 11 hours to cross the Straits of Dover and enter the Thames estuary, plus another five hours waiting time at the quay for loading and unloading.

The new Cobelfret terminal at Vlissingen East employs a workforce of 120. The facility itself was built on reclaimed land on the Westerschelde and covers an area of 56 hectares. It provides parking areas for a maximum of 25,000 vehicles and 700 trailers, has three RoRo jetties and three railway sidings.

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