When Chris Rea penned his track Steel River, its lyrics read like a diary entry lamenting the plight of a former love.
Mourning the demise of heavy industry across Teesside, the song charted the loss of the shipbuilders and the bridgebuilders that had afforded the region international acclaim.
It remembered Second World War Nazi raids, when the area’s productive iron and steel plants gained Luftwaffe attention, and the sad irony of how the River Tees’ cleaner waters – the consequence of business dissolution – had heralded the arrival of salmon.
“Ten thousand bombers hit the steel river,” recalled the lad from Middlesbrough.
“She survived but now she’s gone forever; her burning heart is just a memory,” he sang.
But it isn’t.
While the landscape has undoubtedly altered, the channel remains a crucial industrial artery.
Teesside’s renowned chemical processing sector, the emergence of Sirius Minerals’ potash mining development and the ever-growing offshore energy industry are all nourished by their proximity to the river.
At the heart of all of this sits Teesport.
The Northern gateway for global shippers, the site serves markets including Scandinavia, the Baltics, Russia, Belgium and Japan.
Handling 28 million tonnes of cargo every year, the base also acts as the Statutory Harbour Authority for the River Tees, managing traffic and ensuring safety on the waterway.
It is, in short, a substantial player in Teesside’s – and the wider North East’s – standing worldwide.
Such significance, however, has become even greater in recent weeks.
As the coronavirus outbreak delivers unprecedented uncertainty to business and everyday life, Teesport is safely anchored amid the flux.
With all maritime sector employees identified by the Government as key workers in the fight against COVID-19, Teesport is able to continue operations.
Managing deliveries of food, medicine, fuel and chemicals, as well as metals, agricultural feeds and forestry products, it is no exaggeration to say the site – overseen by Middlesbrough-headquartered national operator PD Ports – is keeping the country moving.
“It is a bit of a paradoxical situation,” says PD Ports’ chief executive Frans Calje, when asked about the impact of COVID-19 on operations . . . . .
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