The Port of Lorient lies on the banks of the Scorff River where it meets the Blavet on the Bay of Biscay in the Bretagne region of northwest France. The Port of Lorient was all but destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944. Today, it is home to almost 60 thousand people.
In the City of Lorient, there is a major fishing port at the Keroman facilities and cargo-handling and passenger facilities at the docks at Kergroise. The bay around the Port of Lorient boasts several marinas, and it is a popular yachting port. Tourism is important to the city’s economy, and the annual Festival Interceltique de Lorient has drawn many visitors each summer since 1971.
In the early 1600s, merchants built warehouses at Port-Louis, the new name for the medieval village of Blavet, to support their trade with India, and the crown established a citadel on the site. In 1628, they built warehouses on the other side of the bay at a site they called L’Orient Brittany Southern.
In 1664, King Louis XIV chartered the French East India Company, which built shipyards in what is today the Port of Lorient. The town served as a base for trade with Asia, handling exotic cargoes like porcelains, spices, fabrics, teas, and silk.
The new town grew quickly, particularly after the Second Company of the Indies was created there in 1719. With a monopoly on trade with Africa, the colony of Louisiana and the Antilles in the New World, the Indian Ocean, and the China Sea, the Port of Lorient enjoyed prosperity during the mid-18th Century. In 1766, the first quay was built outside the Company of the Indies’ properties. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt in 1769.
In 1785, the third Company of the Indies was created, but its commercial monopoly was abolished during the Revolution of 1789-1799. In 1794, the Companies of the Indies were removed, and Lorient became a military port. While the India trade declined after France lost its possessions there, Louis XVI purchased the Port of Lorient to house his new royal arsenal.
During the 19th Century, the Port of Lorient languished. At the end of the Century, coal imports began, and the port once again thrived. Welsh vessels brought coal and carried away French timber. The port took on other cargoes such as cereals, wines, lime, salt, and sugar). By 1880, the Port of Lorient was handling 45 thousand tons of cargo a year. In 1889, the Port of Lorient’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry received the concession to operate the port.
In 1920, the first deep-water quay was begun. In 1929, the Port of Lorient reached a record of 438 tons of cargo, half of which was coal.
During World War II, the Port of Lorient was a submarine base for Germany that operated until the end of the war. Allied bombs were not able to destroy the base, so the Allies tried to cut supply lines to the base and the U-boats by bombing the city. Over three days in January 1943, over 60 thousand incendiary bombs and 500 explosive bombs fell on the city, destroying almost 90% of the town and killing thousands of civilians. While the base was active, submarines entering the base could not refuel or resupply, nor could they return to the Atlantic.
After World War II, the French economy changed dramatically. The Port of Lorient became Brittany’s first commercial port. From 1960, the Port of Lorient has continued to expand and improve. In the 1960s, the first oil jetty was constructed, and the port handled record volumes of sand and gravel and animal feed cargoes. In the 1970s, the main quay was extended to 568 meters to handle additional agricultural products and assorted goods. In the 1980s, a new silo was built, the rail transit station was opened, and a new 150-meter quay was added.
The 1990s saw a number of changes in the Port of Lorient. The port stopped handling wine traffic, and it acquired heavy equipment to handle agricultural bulk goods. New cold store quays were installed. In 1998, the port received ISO 9001 certification.
In the first decade of the 21st Century, additional heavy equipment has been added to handle containers, and road access has been expanded. In 2007, construction of a new bulk cement installation was begun.