Work will begin this month on the first element of a major restructuring of the port of Foynes in Co Limerick. 

It is part of a €50m investment in transforming the port into one of the biggest bulk harbours in Europe.

Shannon Foynes Port Company will spend €12m on transforming the existing East Jetty area, and reclaiming a 3.45 acre section of the port to create a bigger foreshore area of activity and enable improved bulk discharge times.

The expansion of the port will add an additional 35,000 square metres of additional berthage and create more open quay storage at the port.

It will enable the company to accommodate larger container cargo ships, enabling ships of 40,000 tonne capacity to berth at the new port.

In time it will create capacity for the world's largest cargo vessels of 80,000 tonne capacity to travel and unload at Foynes, making it one of the few ports in Europe capable of handling these massive ships.

These are the types of vessels which currently use the Panama Canal.

The expansion is part of the ambitious Masterplan Vision 2041, which is aimed at transforming the economic potential of the Shannon Estuary, which is the only natural deep water channel in Ireland.

The Shannon Foynes Port company already handles over €6 billion worth of trade a year through its six ports along the estuary.

Announcing the first phase of the plan in Foynes today, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said this significant investment programme seeks to double SFPC trade in the next three decades in line with its Masterplan Vision 2041.

This also anticipates that the number of people employed in port activities will increase by 25% over the life of the plan.