Shannon Foynes Port Company has launched a 30-year plan to develop port facilities along the Shannon estuary.

The estuary is the deepest waterway in Ireland and one of the deepest in Europe.

Its natural deepwater gives it a distinct advantage over other ports in Ireland, as it can handle the huge container ships being developed with the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The port company facilitates €6 billion worth of international trade at its ports in a year, and over a third of the country's bulk container traffic now transits the estuary.

It handles 10 million tonnes of cargo and is growing at around 8% a year.

The plan charts the development of Foynes port and Limerick docks over the next 30 years.

The development will allow the company to take complete commercial advantage of the estuary's natural deepwater.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar launched the plan, which is known as Vision 2041.

He said Shannon Foynes is an important asset for the southwest of Ireland and he welcomed the company's goal to attract significant international investment.

A new deep water berth will be built at Foynes and over 300 acres of extra land will be developed to build new warehousing and facilities.

In addition the Foynes-Limerick railway line could be reopened to facilitate new trade and the road infrastructure, in particular the N69, would need to be radically improved.

Future business at the estuary is also being governed by events at the Panama Canal, which is being expanded and will be accommodating supersize container vessels of 80,000 tonnes by 2015.

The natural deep waters of the estuary will be a distinct advantage in what is known as the post-panamax era.

As a result the Shannon Foynes Port Company is to begin talks with IDA Ireland to attract more foreign direct investment and bring more employment to the entire Shannon estuary region.

Shannon Foynes Port Company Chairman Michael Collins said that while ambitious and challenging, the projected growth in the plan is more than achievable.

"With the unrivalled opportunity we have due to our deepwater and emergence of larger vessels, we have a unique opportunity here that we need to take advantage of. For these reasons, the estuary is one of the jewels in the nation's crown from an investment potential perspective," Mr Collins said.