While the overall volume across Eurogate Group’s three German container terminals remained flat in 2016, the terminal at Germany’s deepsea port of Wilhelmshaven registered the highest growth, having handled 481,720 TEUs during the year, 12.9% more than in 2015.
Michael Blach, chairman of the Eurogate Group management board, says that Wilhelmshaven became a workable idea towards the end of the 1990s, when there was huge growth and ports needed to double their capacity every seven to eight years.
“In Hamburg and Bremerhaven, it was clear that if this extremely high growth continued, eventually we would need to look at another facility,” he says. “Wilhelmshaven was seen as a very good site from a geographical perspective, not only based on land connections but also the nautical connections. With the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, everything looked different and, of course, it will take a little longer to get Wilhelmshaven up to full speed than was foreseen at the time.”
That’s not to say that there has been little progress. On top of the solid growth in 2016, Eurogate managed to convince more major shipping lines to use the port of Wilhelmshaven, which is set to add six more shipping lines to its portfolio as part of the reshuffle in the global shipping alliances: CMA CGM, COSCO, Evergreen and OOCL from the Ocean Alliance, as well as Hamburg Süd through Maersk Line and Hyundai through the 2M Alliance. The team’s efforts culminated in the 8,888 TEU OOCL Tianjin making the first Ocean Alliance call at the terminal in May 2017.
“This is a major breakthrough for us and it’s clear that we will do everything possible to make this successful for our new customers,” says Blach. “In that respect, we’ve done a lot of work with the landside providers. Many rail companies have introduced services to Wilhelmshaven over the past couple of months. On the sea side, we also have new feeder companies coming in which is very important too.”
With a designed annual capacity of 2.7 million TEUs, Blach says that there’s still huge potential to grow the business. But he adds that the company’s efforts are now concentrated on making sure that the new strings perform very smoothly. Only after that first stepping stone can the team then begin to think about taking the next step.
According to Eurogate, the Asia-North Europe 1 service is the Ocean Alliance’s largest and will deploy 11 of the world’s largest container ships, including six 22,000 TEU newbuildings from OOCL and the 19,000 TEU CSCL Globe. The 21,100 TEU OOCL Hong Kong, currently the world’s largest, is scheduled to call at Wilhelmshaven on July 1, 2017 during its maiden voyage.
The ever-increasing ship size results in huge peaks in port utilization. One way in which container terminals have been addressing that is with increased automation.
“With the current systems, having a ship come in with 5,000 moves or more would require working 48 hours non-stop over the weekend,” says Blach. “That can really be a challenge to get to work optimally. We’re now preparing for an automated landside operation at one part of the Wilhelmshaven terminal. We hope to get this up and running at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018, and then we plan to run this test operation for about 12 months. Hopefully when we’ve seen that this is durable, functional and scalable, then we’ll look to see how we can use it elsewhere.”
The project, covering 200m of quay, four automated straddle carriers, access to repair facilities and handover points to manual and rail operations, is designed to mirror manual operations but on a smaller scale in order to test out all the important factors and to iron out any issues before a more widespread rollout.
Blach says that life is being changed by technological advances every day, and that seaports and container terminals are no exception.
“Obviously this will mean that some jobs will change, some new ones will come up and some will no longer be needed,” he says. “This change has happened with technology since the industrial revolution and will continue to happen with digitization. Of course, within your company, you’ll need to sit down and talk about how you go about planning for these changes and doing it in a responsible manner. Modernization and digitization will not stop.”
Eurogate’s main challenge is to adapt to all the changes that are happening at an unprecedented level while providing a top-quality service at the same time. Blach says that there is a lot of pressure from the industry, which is continuing to optimize and to demand higher quality and productivity, but he says that he is determined to be successful on all these fronts.
“There are very few safe havens around and Eurogate is like any other company in any other industry, having to prove itself on a daily basis,” Blach says. “We have good locations, good people and good infrastructure, and we have to improve because that is what is expected of us.”
By Jeffrey Lee
Asia Cargo News | Munich