Handling cargoes for the construction industry can be a good earner, finds Dave MacIntyre
A good example is Saqr Port in the United Arab Emirates, the major Middle East aggregates port, which last year shipped over 44m tonnes of aggregates for use in major construction projects such as road building and infrastructure works, mainly in Kuwait, India and Qatar.
Business development manager Alan Pollard says Saqr is unique in bulk handling, due to the variety of commodities handled, chiefly limestone, limestone aggregates and gabbro aggregates.
“There are 17 customers who lease land from Saqr Port, with each of these plots being a storage area for their export cargo. These customers manage their own area and store cargo, ready for their vessel(s) to arrive.
“Once they book a vessel with Saqr Port, we allocate a berth, as long as they have sufficient cargo to load. The customer then arranges transport to take the cargo from their stockpile to the berth, with Saqr Port providing shovels to load the cargo into the trucks. Once there is enough cargo on the berth, Saqr Port allocates cranes for loading.”
Growth has been spectacular: the current management team took control in 2009, when throughput was 27.5m tonnes, and by 2014 had increased that to 49.7m tonnes with only a very small amount of extra equipment.
“The market itself dictates,” says Mr Pollard. “However, the port has to perform in order for our customers to meet their contracts, so we make certain that all our equipment is maintained correctly, and we have adequate availability of machines.”
The biggest challenge for Saqr is the volume of trucks on a daily basis. “We receive in the region of 2,500 trucks per day, with the majority going in and out of one designated gate.
“To alleviate congestion, we have a different route in for our biggest customer, which helps the flow of traffic and allows that customer more space for his trucks. If trucks are delivering direct to the berths, then there are various routes they can take to avoid a snarl-up in the traffic.
“We also try to allocate berths as close to the respective customers’ stock pile. Import cargo stored inside the port is allocated areas away from the main body of exports.”
Mr Pollard says growth is expected to continue, at a rate of between 2%-4%, year-on-year, for the next five years.
“Already the port has been given the green light for a two berth expansion into deep water of 18 metres. There is a possibility that this will become four berths, with the necessary storage space. Further new equipment would be extra mobile harbour cranes, with a possibility of rail-mounted ship loaders and unloaders.”
Forth Ports is among those to have targeted aggregate handling as a market niche.
The Port of Tilbury has six bulk handling berths and 7.4 acres of bulk-handling operations. Dry bulk products throughput has grown significantly in recent years with a range of commodities handled via dedicated storage facilities.
Peter Ward, Forth Ports’ senior asset manager at Tilbury, says: “This is a market we have targeted … It is a large part of our bulks portfolio and growing. With the boom in construction in the south east and some of the larger construction projects in London, such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel, there is good room for growth.”
The Tilbury throughput has grown to accommodate a mix of aggregate operations, including handling, storing and redelivering for a number of customers including Tarmac, CEMEX and Stema, as well as sometimes loading secondary aggregate for Ballast Phoenix.
All of the main aggregates are imported apart from the Ballast Phoenix product which is produced from bottom furnace ash and used internally and occasionally shipped around the coast.
“We use Sennebogen cranes and harbour mobiles to discharge aggregate either direct into customers’ premises as we do with CEMEX or into segregated bays for other customers. Stema operate their own site and use self-discharge vessels,” says Mr Ward.
As to challenges to future growth, he says space is the main issue – “stockpiles take up large areas and we also need to ensure we do not overload quays or landside areas”.
Carving a niche
Over on the US West Coast, the Port of San Francisco has also recognised the niche opportunities.
It has been building its trade steadily, handling bulk aggregates and sand imported from British Columbia into its Pier 94 and Pier 92 bulk handling facilities, totalling 1.36m tonnes last year. The port also receives sand mined from San Francisco and Suisun Bays via a barge handling facility at Pier 92.
At Pier 94, product is received via panamax vessels with a self-unloading arm that deposits the product into a hopper and on to a conveyor system.
At Pier 92 the aggregate is stored on a barge, which receives aggregate from the same panamax vessel but at anchorage just off Pier 94. The sand that is mined from the bays (and also used in part by the two concrete batch plants) is conveyed from barges on to land at a separate Pier 92 facility and stockpiled.
Maritime marketing manager Jim Maloney says the initial investment in the Pier 94 Hanson facility took place around 2000, and the batch plants started operation in 2007 (CEMEX) and 2005 (Central) respectively.
“Initial challenges were from the local community, who were concerned mainly about fugitive dust, which has long since been mitigated to the satisfaction of the community through stockpile dampening practices. There have also been challenges with stockpile heights and the settling of the pier apron at Pier 94 due to the weight.
“The tenants have also been monitored by local environmental groups for their stormwater practices and tenants have addressed these concerns.”
The payoff has been an extremely successful and environmentally-friendly operation, with definite growth potential.
“The port has plans to partner with the San Francisco Department of Public Works and a private party to invest in building a third batch plant adjacent to Pier 94, which would be a combination asphalt/concrete plant to complement existing plants,” says Mr Maloney. The plant will receive most or all product via water through a new conveyance system.
The port also intends to issue an RFP for the adjacent Pier 96 facility to attract a bulk terminal investor/developer/operator for the export of bulk commodities such as iron ore and other minerals.
Mobile shiploaders a flexible option
What solutions are available for a port to load aggregates without committing to long-term, fixed infrastructure?
An example is Van Oord’s need to load 100,000 tonnes of aggregate to handymax vessels for a one-off project, a gravity-based support structure for an offshore production platform in Russia.
Van Oord considered fixed-length shiploaders but decided against this because of the inflexibility and loss of production by having to stop the feeding equipment and move the entire system to load and trim the vessel. The solution was a fully-customised mobile shiploading system supplied by Northern Ireland-based Telestack.
The material was stocked on site in Ishikari Bay, Japan, loaded on to the vessel and transferred north to the offshore platform for unloading. The system consists of two radial telescopic shiploaders and two hopper feeders which load 0–380mm sized material up to 1,500 tonnes per hour.
The feed came from two CAT 972 front-end loaders up to 600-700 tonnes per hour each. They supply wheel-mounted hopper feeders, which include a heavy-duty apron chain belt feeder direct to the radial telescopic shiploader. The hopper was wheel mounted, allowing it to be towed easily around the site.
Gerry Mensink, of Van Oord’s ship management department, plant design and construction, says the design and engineering of the equipment was very important to enabling the handling of this size of material, as well as reliability to load the vessel on time, eliminating the possibility of expensive demurrage charges.
Another key reason for the purchase of the system by Van Oord was the transportability of the equipment. It can be packed into 40ft containers or lifted directly into a vessel, and shipped anywhere in the world.
Telestack sales manager Carl Donnelly says the ability of the system to be transported or stored, presents opportunities for ports.
“The port can avoid high fixed costs if it has a short-term or one-off project. If the port wishes to free-up space after the project, the system can be disassembled and stored, or moved elsewhere.”
Van Oord has subsequently moved the system to projects in Australia and Indonesia.
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