Great Yarmouth outer harbour cranes head for Venice

Great Yarmouth's ill-fated container cranes were fastened on to a barge yesterday ready to be taken to Italy.

But Eddie Freeman, chief executive of outer harbour operator EastPort, remained upbeat about the future.

The twin cranes, together costing �7m, arrived almost two years ago but have remained idle ever since.

Mr Freeman blamed the 'deepest economic recession since the Great Depression' for the failure of the port's short sea container terminal to take off.

In the past few days, engineers from PSA, EastPort's operating partner for the container quay, dismantled cranes that had only ever been used in training exercises.

And, at the weekend, the 1,400-tonne metal structures were lifted hydraulically on to bogies and wheeled on to the waiting barge, AMT Ventura.

Pending completion of sea fastenings and a forecast of fair weather, the tug Mozamki will tow the vessel out to sea towards the end of the week on a slow journey to the PSA port of Venice.

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While the idle cranes have become a symbol for outer harbour critics to attack, Mr Freeman insisted it was unfair to brand the port a white elephant since there had been a worldwide downturn in the container trade. He added: 'We move on, and the rest of the port is going to be very busy throughout the year.'

The decision – taken with PSA Great Yarmouth – to suspend container operations until economic conditions had improved had been made with a view to rapidly- developing opportunities in offshore wind energy, he said.

Mr Freeman added: 'Since the decision was taken to refocus at the end of last year, EastPort has announced the successful award of two major contracts for the offshore wind sector.

'The first contract, with MT Hojgaard, will see the outer harbour used as an installation base for the foundations for Centrica's Lincs offshore windfarm; and the second, with A2Sea, will see the port used as a reloading base for the wind turbine generators for the Sheringham Shoal offshore windfarm.'

He said the first windfarm operations would start this month and there would be 'a lot of action', with shipments of turbines and blades and other machinery moving in and out of port.

Before then, the port would this week see the first visit of the giant jack-up barge, Leviathan, its owner Gorleston-based SeaJacks having signed a deal to make the outer harbour the home port for its fleet of vessels used in building windfarms.

Mr Freeman said: 'While the container cranes are going, we will be bringing in two more big cranes for lifting the windfarm parts.'

John Best, chairman of East of England Energy Group, said: 'Some vision has been shown in not hanging on to the container cranes at a time when the market had simply not materialised.

'It leaves the port clear to embrace all elements of the energy industry, which will include wind for decades to come.'

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said he also believed there was a sound business case for the cranes going.

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