As a boy I looked forward to the annual family visit to the exotic far South of England, to Southsea; where we would board a ‘Red Funnel’ steamer’ to progress up Southampton Water to see usually one of the big Cunarders, the Queens Elizabeth or Mary.
On the voyage another highlight was Fawley refinery. Then it was the largest in the UK. Very many years later it still is. It is said to be one of the most complex and productive refi neries in Europe. The site was acquired by Esso’s predecessors way back in 1925 when land availability and deep water were big plusses, but the proximity to the thirsty Atlantic liners needing fuel at Southampton was another incentive to develop the plant. Since a major reconstruction in 1951 the site has been developed continuously now employing 2,300 people.
Fawley currently processes 20% of the UK’s crude oil requirement to produce a wide range of fuels and by-products, including petrol, jet fuel, diesel, marine fuels, heating oil, propane, butane and lubricants. A major petro-chemical complex feeds off the refinery to manufacture 750,000 tonnes of chemical products every year much of it shipped to plants in Europe, especially the ingredients for plasticizers, rubbers used in tyres and ketone solvents used in paints and adhesives. This productivity and the strategic location of Fawley generates 2,000 shipping movements and 22 million tons of cargoes annually at its mile long jetty. A full 70% of production goes inland by pipeline but 25% of the output and much of the petro-chemical traffic is by tanker.
Back in my young days heading up toward Southampton I can remember large crude oil tankers, for those days, upwards of 20,000dwt bearing the familiar Esso legend unloading from the Gulf or Caribbean. Now averaging four or five times larger, they are as likely to come from the North Sea or North Atlantic, but it is the short sea traffic that is specially remarkable. Connecting a network of petro-chemical plants and specialist oil and staple fuel users in many parts of the UK and Europe, and here we see a cross section of current traders.
The chemical tanker Costanza Wonsild, 2,349,’94 Italian owned and built, Danish managed, has recently linked Fawley successively to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Kiel and Portjerome on the lower Seine. The American owned, Korean built, Singapore flag Sichem Hiroshima 8,582’,08 exemplifi es the complex pattern of the chemical parcel trades with Rotterdam, Gdansk, Gonfreville (Normandy), Las Palmas and Montreal all featuring in recent movements. Superiority 3,859,’07, blt China, shows Fawley still supplying the basic fuel needs of UK industry. She linked Fawley and later Immingham with storage depots at St Helier, Channel Islands, and Aberdeen and as I write she is on her way from Immingham to Peterhead having recently traded also to Antwerp and Le Havre.