Europe’s ports seek more attention

ESPO is leading a charge demanding more money for transport. Credit: Gustavo Frazao, 123rf
ESPO is leading a charge demanding more money for transport. Credit: Gustavo Frazao, 123rf
Antwerp is looking to develop additional capacity. Credit: Antwerp Port Authority
Antwerp is looking to develop additional capacity. Credit: Antwerp Port Authority
Digitalisation is a major focus at Antwerp. Credit: Antwerp Port Authority
Digitalisation is a major focus at Antwerp. Credit: Antwerp Port Authority
Antwerp is laying the foundations for a ‘smart harbour’ at the Deurganck Dock. Credit: Port of Antwerp Authority
Antwerp is laying the foundations for a ‘smart harbour’ at the Deurganck Dock. Credit: Port of Antwerp Authority

It’s all about the money, says the European Sea Ports Organisation. Felicity Landon reports

Money makes the ports world go ’round, but whose money? At the end of April, the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) led a coalition of 40 European associations representing every aspect of transport, calling on the European Commission to step up funding for transport in its budget to be announced for 2021-27.

In particular, the MFF4Transport coalition pleaded for a stronger Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the funding system to help complete the European Commission’s TEN-T network. At the time of writing, details of the CEF II proposals were yet to be published – and perhaps it is tempting to say that any sum will never be enough.

Certainly, EC funding and the need for investment are the top issues for the ports sector, says Isabelle Ryckbost, ESPO secretary general. “We are a very strong coalition of organisations, with ESPO taking the lead. In the budget for transport, from our point of view, we want to stress that ports need more attention and more finance,” she says. “In the past four years, only 4% of the CEF transport funding has gone to ports.

“But look at the complex role that ports have, as nodes of transport, industry and energy; we believe there must be more attention for the maritime side in the coming years.”

Infrastructure needs

ESPO recently commissioned a study into the infrastructure investment needs and financing challenges of European ports, and this concluded that European ports will require investment of about €48bn for the period 2018-27.

Therefore, if Europe wants to achieve a fully-fledged and operational TEN-T network, more attention must be given to ports, says Ms Ryckbost.

The report says: “The challenge ports everywhere face now, is to implement projects which often are financially unattractive to the port authority and even less attractive to external investors, but which are essential for wider societal and economic reasons.

“Some ports are financially strong enough to finance such projects and accept the low financial returns. Other ports are challenged to implement projects which are essential but are entirely beyond their means.”

Never mind simply increasing capacity, ports face a number of challenges which are beyond their control but create the need for developing new and adapting existing port infrastructure, says ESPO, including larger ships, increasing market power through alliances, decarbonisation, the need for resilience to climate change, the push for greener ships, digitalisation and automation, security challenges, increasing pressure from expanding cities and, of course, Brexit. Future CEF priorities must reflect that diversity of investment drivers, says the study.

Hamburg’s wait

The Port of Hamburg knows only too well the challenge that increasing numbers of mega-container ships brings; the long wait for a deeper Elbe continues. After years of legal challenges and environmentalists’ objections, a final go-ahead decision from the courts is expected by mid-2018, says Axel Mattern, chief executive of Hamburg Port Marketing. “We are desperately waiting for that message; when we receive it, we will spread the message to the world,” he says. “We will tell everyone that Hamburg is developing and working on the fairway depth in order to accommodate bigger ships that deliver more, much more easily than we do at present.”

That’s not to say that work will start immediately – the port authority must go through the international tendering process and also work around wildlife sensitivities. “It isn’t that as we get the message, the hoppers arrive,” says Mr Mattern. “But for shipowners and shipping lines, it is important they get the message early so they can do more strategic planning in order to put Hamburg more properly in the system. And when it happens, it will make a big difference.”

The influx of more and more of the largest container ships is a challenge for all ports, he says. “With our adjustment in the river, we will be more flexible for these big ships. But all of the ports in Northern Europe have to think about the berth situation. We need bigger berths, bigger cranes. All of this has to be financed – and yet it isn’t a real business case. You don’t make a lot of money out of it, you do it because you have to.”

Meanwhile, Hamburg is concentrating on its advantages, says Mr Mattern – in particular its rail connections. “We are trying to develop and optimise our hinterland connections by rail, which is especially important when handling larger ships which bring a lot more containers in one go. Terminals are not designed and built for storage – they are built for handling and for containers to move on as soon as possible. And if you have 11,000-12,000 moves on one vessel, you really have to perform.”

Digitalisation and smart port developments are part of that, he says. “There is no greenfield site for us. We must be smarter and more efficient and handle more cargo with our given space and infrastructure.”

Capacity constraints

Commentators are predicting strong container growth at European ports this year; that is certainly matched by the Port of Antwerp, which reported its best quarter ever in the first three months of this year, handling 58.3m tonnes, up 7.1% on the same period in 2017. The main driver was containers, up 10.7% to 2.74m teu.

There was growth on all routes, for both imports and exports, says Antwerp Port Authority. European container traffic was up by 14.5%, thanks partly to a recovery in transhipment volumes.

Chief executive Jacques Vandermeiren has said the rise in container volumes makes it clear that the port’s operational capacity limit will soon be exceeded, and an expansion will be needed sooner than originally planned.

“According to our initial forecast, additional container capacity was necessary by 2022,” says a spokesperson for the port authority. “A consultation process has been set up to realise this additional capacity. With the traffic figures of 2017 and the first quarter this year, we see a clear confirmation of the need for extra container capacity at the Port of Antwerp, and probably even sooner than forecast. We continue to work together with the responsible administration and government organisations to obtain a decision in 2018.”

Ro-ro volumes were also up, by 6% to 1.3m tonnes, and all other categories increased, except for conventional breakbulk; non-ferrous metals, wood, paper and pulp, and fruit all dropped in the first quarter. This was not only about the volatility of the trades but also about further containerisation, said the port authority.

Watching the neighbour

Competition is increasing between the major European ports, points out Björn Pistol, head of port strategy at Hamburg Port Authority. “Maybe 20 years ago, there was a saying: there is enough cargo for everybody. Today, ports are increasingly in competition with each other. HPA’s job, as landlord, is to provide the infrastructure and framework that enables the port industry to offer the most efficient and best quality service to the market. Therefore, we are very much focused on establishing the right framework in terms of digitalisation – i.e. proper IT infrastructure, broadband and other components – as well as driving standard-setting and integrating digitally the entire maritime logistics industry.

“We started this a couple of years ago and the port of Hamburg has been established as ‘the’ smart port in the world, and we are proud of that label.”

Hamburg is one of two regions (the other being Venice) chosen by the European Commission as pilots for its 5G communications programme. “We really drove innovation in the field of digitalisation across the maritime business and we are heavily involved in the next generation of communication,” says Mr Pistol.

“The pilot will finish next year and then be evaluated by the EC, which will use the findings to develop a blueprint for a rollout standard in Europe,” he says. “The establishment of 5G will be a fantastic help for our Smartport project.”

Beyond digitalisation, sustainability is the other big focus for ports, says Mr Pistol. That’s particularly the case for Hamburg, as its location in the heart of the city means that noise, light and air pollution are sensitive issues.

Among recent measures, HPA has established onshore power supplies for cruise vessels and also developed a ‘power pack’ solution as an alternative power supply alongside. Using LNG, the solution is based on a 40-foot container acting as a giant energy generator. The container is lifted onboard the vessel, which can then plug into the power pack. “This will significantly reduce emissions. We have two of these containers at present and there will be more. Nevertheless, this is an interim solution – we want to have onshore power for all container vessels.”

Digitalisation is also a major focus at Antwerp, which has developed NxtPort, a data utility platform that collects and pools data from throughout the supply chain. By allowing improved data sharing, the platform will lead to more transparency and efficiency, says the port authority. Antwerp is also laying the foundations for a ‘smart harbour’ at the Deurganck Dock, its main container handling centre. It says a ‘smart quay’ and an automatic sounding boat will make shipping operations and berth maintenance more efficient and enable more efficient use of the berths available in the dock.



WIND PROJECT UP IN THE AIR

Legal challenges continue to keep bremenports’ €180m Offshore Terminal Bremerhaven project on hold. The plans are for a 25-hectare terminal with a 500-metre quay, heavy load capacity and unrestricted access to deep water, for the pre-assembly, storage and transhipment of offshore wind turbine components.

The facility would be close to the production sites for wind turbine components – and about 200 hectares of industrial sites are available nearby for new companies and expansions. All of this was planned with an original opening date of 2019, but environmental organisation BUND objected to the development. However, given that the German government has slowed the pace on offshore wind, this may work out well, with a likely date of 2021-22 for opening.

“We are still waiting for a decision of the court,” says bremenports’ spokesman Holger Bruns.

However, other major projects have been moving ahead.

The €30m expansion of the Imsumer Deich storage track complex at Bremerhaven’s Überseehafen was completed in December 2017; this has provided eight new parallel tracks, of 750 metres each. “The capacity for our rail system has increased from 600 to 700 trains per week,” says Mr Bruns. “This development makes Bremerhaven the best railport in Europe. About 80% of the 2.3m cars come or go by train and almost every second container that is destined for the hinterland is transported by rail.”

Another €30m is being invested in the Kaiserhafen III project. Here, parts of the quay date back to the Kaiser Wilhelm era and are being restored, while a new 500 metre quay is being built and the port basin is being enlarged by 9 metres. The work, which is likely to be finished in spring 2019, involves the excavation of 50,000 cubic metres of soil and the installation of about 4,000 tons of steel sheet piling and 3,500 cubic metres of concrete.

In April, bremenports got the politicians’ go-ahead to rebuild the Columbuskaje, at a cost of about €80m. This 1,000-metre quay is about 100 years old. “Bremerhaven has a strong growth in cruise liner passengers and this investment secures this positive development,” says Mr Bruns. Construction will probably start, after the planning process, in 2020.



ROTTERDAM WELCOMES NEW ENERGY GAINS

Total volumes through the Port of Rotterdam fell by 1.2% in the first quarter of this year – to 117.8m tonnes. However, a breakdown of the statistics reveals the full story. Containers were up by 6.1% to 3.5m teu, and there was a 7.5% increase in feeder volumes, to 0.6m teu.

These figures underline Rotterdam’s role as an important hub for the main alliances, and, in parallel, as the exchange hub for feeder vessels covering other ports not directly served by the deep-sea services, says Rotterdam Port Authority.

Coal was down by 19% to 6.5m tonnes, largely because of reduced demand following the closure of older power plants in Germany and the Netherlands. Biomass and LNG, meanwhile, increased “spectacularly”, says the port authority. LNG was up 210% to 700,000 tonnes, and there was a record volume of more than 500,000 tonnes in February. “This growth concerned both the supply and distribution of LNG. This confirms the importance of Rotterdam as an LNG trading hub,” says a spokesperson.

In April, the port authority organised an information session entitled ‘Fuelling the Future: LNG’, which was attended by about 50 shipping company and terminal representatives.

Also in April, the port unveiled the first version of Pronto, its new digital application. Pronto will enable ships visiting the port to cut their waiting time by an average 20% and allow the precise planning and coordination of a range of vessel services, including bunkering, servicing and maintenance, and provisioning, said the port. The application will also support the reduction of CO2 emissions in the port.

A joint platform for the exchange of port call related information, Pronto will be used by shipping companies, agents, service providers and operators, to plan, carry out and monitor activities throughout the port call.

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