I grew up with the steel industry and worked in it on occasion and I recall on a visit two years ago to Redcar turning nostalgic at the blast furnace fumes that were wafting for miles downwind from one of the largest blast furnaces in Europe.
That Redcar plant is already closed blaming high costs, especially of energy prices and due to the dumping of Chinese steel on the European market. Now it seems most steel plants from the Tees to South Wales are under threat of closure. At Hartlepool recently, I was looking across the Tees to the silent Redcar plant and noted the absence of any shipping in Hartlepool and it made me wonder about the knock on effect of steel’s contraction on shipping and port trades. No doubt increased imports of steel will bring shipping some cargoes, but it is taken as read that loss of steel-making can lead to a diminishing manufacturing base.
It is not all gloom as yet, as rescuing would-be investors are talking about takeover of some plants and perhaps part nationalisation. The logistics firm AV Dawson on Teesside is certainly showing initiative in handling export steel cargoes from their revitalised Tees wharfage.
Their largest vessel there late last year, the Skala 21,213,’12, loaded 20,000 tons of structural steel ‘for European markets’ though there is confidentiality about precisely where it was destined, similarly about the railtrack being loaded aboard the Sardius 3,739,’11 and more steel aboard Begonia G 8,837,’07 at the same wharf. There is great sensitivity about the steel business currently, given the enormous political and commercial issues involved. It should become clear in the next few months just how much of the UK steel industry will survive and I will return to it later this year.
What has already succumbed with 400+ redundancies due to the worldwide glut of both steel and iron ore, is the Sydvaranger ore mine near Kirkenes in Northern Norway which had only reopened in recent years.
The mine near the Russian border had been a major supplier in the 50s and ‘60s to the UK steel industry, the ore exported from Kirkenes often in their own ships which were well known in the Tees and Cumbrian ports. Some local girls met and married Norwegian seafarers as their ships were in the UK far longer than they were at home in Norway!