Overseeing a busy cargo port is no easy job. CORINNE MCPARTLAND visits the Port of London Authority to find out more.

THE Port of London encompasses the entire tidal Thames, from Margate to Teddington, a distance of 150km.

The Port of London Authority oversees what happens on this stretch of river through its headquarters in Gravesend and a smaller centre in Woolwich.

The Gravesend to Erith stretch of the River Thames is a booming industrial and housing development area.

The authority runs a 24-hour patrol service 365 days a year between the two centres and is constantly monitoring what passes through the river.

It navigates vessels along the river through control room radar and ensures the safety of recreational craft users.

A launch patrol also sails along the stretch 24 hours a day.

The three-man crew keep the waterways clear for bigger vessels and have prosecuting powers should anyone use the river irresponsibly.

Duty port controller Phil Shayler monitors what passes through the Thames between Margate and Teddington.

He said: "Vessels have to give 24 hours notice before they enter the river so we can arrange for someone called a pilot to go on board and navigate the vessel through.

"I am a trained pilot along with 75 others who board vessels and see them through the river between Margate and east London. It is a very rewarding job."

Gravesend deputy harbour master Captain Roy Stanbrook has been involved with boats ever since he "ran away to sea as a boy".

He worked on merchant naval ships for 16 years until he joined the authority as a harbour master in 2001.

Captain Stanbrook said: "It is a great job and I try to get out of the office and join a launch patrol at least once a week.

"Not only is there a huge amount of industrial activity on Gravesend and Dartford's banks, but there is also a lot of new housing being built.

"The industrial activity is starting to coincide with housing and I think it is working quite well so far."

The Gravesend to Erith stretch of the river sees cargo being shipped in from all over the world including the Far East.

The main commodities handled along the 10 miles of river include sand, steel, consumer goods and vegetable oils.

Last year more than 30,000 large passenger and cargo ships passed through the river from Margate to east London.

One of the more unpleasant aspects of the job is having to pick out objects which have fallen in the river.

Captain Stanbrook said: "We have had to pick out some weird things such as a dead cow and a bullock which had fallen in.

"We regularly pull out shopping trollies and stolen cars."

He added: "Unfortunately we have to pull out dead bodies when someone has committed suicide.

"Because we hand the body over to the police we don't actually have to pull it out but we would normally tie a rope around it to contain it and then hand it over to the police."

The authority also helps maintain the river by clearing the bottom of the riverbed.

The sand and gravel collected is re-used and helps build houses in Rochester.



  • Comprises of more than 70 operational wharves and encompasses 150km of the tidal Thames, from Margate to Teddington.
  • Handles more than 53 million tonnes of cargo carried in 12,500 commercial vessels which visit the port each year.
  • Generates more than 35,200 full-time jobs and contributes £3.4bn per annum to the London and south-east regional economy.


  • Regulates vessel navigation through the river.
  • Provides a pilotage service for the port.
  • Employs 370 staff, of which 90 are marine pilots.