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Port history

The modern Port of Sunderland owes its existence to the River Wear Commissioners (formed in 1717) and a succession of eminent engineers, who transformed the harbour from its natural state by the construction of a series of civil engineering wonders.

As the years progressed, the port saw major improvements in navigation and trade as new piers, docks, lighthouses, warehouses, quays, bridges, railways and coal shipping facilities were built. Equally important was the progressive deepening of the harbour and river, which allowed larger and deeper-draughted vessels to use the port.

The Wear’s development can be attributed to the need to transport coal from the Durham coalfield, which led ultimately to Sunderland becoming one of the UK’s leading coal exporting ports and achieving the proud distinction of being the largest shipbuilding town in the world.

As the direct successor to the River Wear Commissioners, the Port of Sunderland is now moving towards the 300th anniversary of its formal establishment as a harbour authority.

Although shipbuilding and coal exports have long disappeared, the port is striving to meet the challenges of the 21st century and demonstrate that it is still a key asset to the City of Sunderland.

Preparation of a chronology of the port’s history is in progress and will be published soon, together with a selection of historical photographs.

Awards and accreditations


The Port of Sunderland is certified by Product Authentication International (PAI) as complying with the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable Crops (TASCC), in respect of storage and in-house testing of combinable crops and dry feed materials/ingredients.

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Investor in People

As a Sunderland City Council service the Port of Sunderland holds Investors in People status, achieved by the council in 2004.

Investors in People

British Ports Association

The port is a member of the British Ports Association