The Levante Dock Project

In 1945, with Saturnino Villaverde as the port manager, a General Preliminary Project for the Port of Gijón was drafted, a polemic document due to the magnitude of its action as it took up almost all of the western part of the bay of Gijón from Torres to Santa Catalina. It was developed in two stages, divided by a central Y-shaped dock starting from Monte Coroña (or Corolla) and that created two port areas, one towards Torres and the other towards Santa Catalina. In the former, a sea wall known as Oeste was designed that started from the curve at the change of alignment of the Norte Dock and stood eastwards into the sea. An isolated dock around 600 metres east of the previous was also designed, along with the Punta Coroña (or Corolla) dock that started northwards from the promontory before turning west at the end to form an entrance with the end of the Norte Dock. The breakwaters and quays to be built were planned inside the new sheltered area. In the second stage, a dock was built that started from the promontory of Santa Catalina and formed an entrance with that jutting out from Monte Coroña (or Corolla).

In 1947, the first phase of the Preliminary Project was approved and, on 18th October of that same year, the Port of El Musel Expansion Project, Phase 1 was drafted, which only included the construction of the 588 metre-long Oeste Dock (start of what is now the Príncipe de Asturias Dock) and the completion of the Smaller Vessel Wharf. This project was not approved until 8th March 1949 and work began in January 1950 to be completed in April 1963.

The era of national self-sufficiency ended in the early 60s, giving rise to the Stabilisation Plan and to Development Plans, the first of which dates back to 1962. Within this new liberalisation policy, sea ports were vital to Spain in order to promote commercial traffic. The port of Gijón was then completing work on the Oeste dock and recorded traffic of 3.6 million tons. Its port infrastructures had become obsolete and its quays were not deep enough to allow for the entry of modern cargo ships, except on the Norte Quay, although this was only 25m wide. To face these new challenges, the Levante Dock Project was drafted in September 1963, when the port board director was Eiriz Beato. This was the most extensive port work of its time, with a budget of 1,133,942,690 pesetas, the equivalent of 175.74 million euros. Initial data studied the berthing of 30,000-ton mineral ships in an immediate stage, followed by 60,000-ton ships with a length of 250 metres in a subsequent stage. Total foreseen cargo traffic exceeded the 3.6 million ton mark in 1962 to reach 6.2 million in 1968 and 8.6 million in 1980, of which 2.00 million tons of solid bulk was unloaded using special facilities in 1962 and 5.05 million tons in 1980, with a total of 7500 ships foreseen for this year.

The project dispensed with the isolated dock from the 1947 Project and designed a large 2877 metre-long dock that, starting in the west on the Playa del Arbeyal beach, followed the alignment of sandbanks of La Osa and La Figar for 1700 metres before turning north-south along the La Figar section and completing the dock with the Head Section that ran almost parallel to the final section of the Norte Dock, leaving a 250 metre entrance with the end of the Oeste Dock.

Work began on 25th November 1964 and the First and Second Reform Project were drafted in 1965 and 1967 to modify the dock sections and the layout of the Outer Harbour. Having recently approved the second Reform Project, some of the larger companies from the region and users of the Port, particularly UNINSA the new private iron and steel works that was building facilities in Veriña, 5 Km from the port, showed their concern and disagreement with the general approach to the work on the El Musel infrastructure. They thought that their future requirements to import iron ore and coal would exceed the capacity planned for it, particularly in terms of the maximum acceptable size of ships.

The need to be able to unload large mineral ships with up to 160,000 tons of cargo when the 240-metre head section of the Levante Dock was built questioned the entire project. As a result of the new studies, the Third Reform project for the Levante dock was drafted in 1968, when the port director was Celestino Moliner. The Third Reform disposed of the head and La Figar sections on the Levante dock and completed it with a breakwater. This Third Reform also planned a dock measuring 891.60 metres that started from the end of the Oeste dock at an angle, known today as the Príncipe de Asturias Dock. This new dock was to include the building of a mineral quay to meet the requirements of the large bulk carriers weighing more than 160,000 tons. In November 1971, the 4th Reform to the Levante Dock was drafted, in which the completion of the Sea wall and the end of the dock is planned, along with the so-called Levante Breakwater that was to form an entrance with the Norte dock and that was to have the Moliner quay attached to it. The work was completed in 1975 at a total cost of 2,439,586,926 pesetas, the equivalent of 266 million euros.

This lay the foundations for the internal development of the Port with the subsequent completion of the La Osa Quays and for the planning of the outer wharf that was to deal with large mineral ships.

However, the pressure placed on the Port of El Musel was unable to do away with the Third Reform projects. The end of the National Self-Sufficiency policy had immediate consequences on the supply of raw materials to ENSIDESA. This iron and steel plant, built on the Avilés estuary and designed so that the iron ore and coal used to produce the steel could come from Spanish mines transported by rail or in coastal shipping vessels, found that its entire mineral supply system was obsolete and had to import this raw material from abroad in large mineral ships to make its freight cheaper. The port of Avilés, an estuary port, was limited to a draught of 7 metres, making it unfeasible for Panamax-type, 60,000-80,000 ton ships that required draughts of 13 and 14 metres. Hence, 10 years after all the supply logistics of ENSIDESA had started, they had to be modified and El Musel became the port of entry for the material as it was the only one to be naturally of these draughts.

However, there were only draughts of 14 metres in El Musel on the last section of the Norte dock, which was only 25 metres in width along a single stretch, the rest being only 10 metres wide. These dimensions made it impossible to unload the large volumes required. Several years of heavy traffic then began in the Port of Gijón, rising from 3.6 million tons in 1962 to 6.4 million tons in 1970, most of which was bulk for ENSIDESA. To be able to deal with this, the widening of the Norte Dock was planned to give it a width of 60 metres over its last 600 metres in length and to be able to build a modern bulk unloading facility on the new quay made up of four 20-ton unloading gantry cranes to ensure the unloading of 2,000 tons an hour. This Terminal was connected to the Aboño valley by two belt conveyors, where ENSIDESA had its coal homogenisation yard and the loading bay to transport products to Avilés by rail. The unloading terminal, known as I.E.D.G., was built by the Port of Gijón board and was awarded to ENSIDESA for operations by tender. Operations began in 1973, which was a great relief for port traffic that saw the unloading of bulk carriers increase on the Norte quay, now known as the Olano quay, by more than double.

A new stage then began for the Port of Gijón. From a coal exporter to a iron ore and coal importer for the iron and steel industry in volumes far greater than all other Spanish ports. From then on, the port was to prepare to meet the requirements of this traffic more efficiently. Following the Fourth Reform on the Levante dock and once the Outer dock, now known as the Príncipe de Asturias, was completed in 1975, the port began designing a modern bulk unloading Terminal inside the recently finished dock to replace the one on the Olano quay that, with its limited draught of 14 metres and the narrowness of the quay, did not meet the necessary requirements to deal with ships of 160,000 tons that the iron and steel industry required to lower freight costs and thus compete. Under port director Marcelino León, the outer breakwater and the mineral quay were planned. The latter, with a length of 624 metres and draughts of between 19 and 21 metres, became suitable for this type of traffic. The infrastructure for this work was completed in 1983.

There were then several years in which Asturias was seriously affected by the economic crisis and port traffic came to a standstill. The port continued to optimise its inner areas and designed the new unloading facility on the Marcelino León quay, which had to be undertaken using its own resources due to the lack of interest from private initiative. The new Terminal began operating in 1991 and was awarded by tender to EBHISA, a company almost entirely owned by the Port Board itself, for operations. It consisted of two 50-ton unloader gantry cranes and a storage area at the foot of the quay, served by two reclaimers.

As a vital addition to the port of El Musel and due to the lack of land surface, the Aboño valley on the other side of Cape Torres had been gradually taken over since the first years of port operations, firstly to establish a large railway station to classify coal from the mines while waiting to be shipped and, as of the 1950s, to build large industries on its salt marshes that imported their raw materials through the port (iron ore and coal): the Tudela Veguín cement plants on the left side, the Hidroeléctrica del Cantábrico power station (built between 1967 and 1973) on the right and the Coal and Mineral Yard in the valley bed. The industrial transformation reached its high during the 1980s when the original El Bocal beach located at the mouth of the estuary was filled in. At the start of the year 2000, a storage yard was established here for the coal unloaded at the ports Marcelino León quay terminal (EBHISA), thanks to which the arrival of imported thermal coal could be deal with.

At present, the industrial function of the port of El Musel is based on the iron and steel industry and on the power stations as the main drive for traffic and stands at the forefront in the Spanish port system as a bulk port with annual traffic of over 20 million tons.

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