North Europe’s largest and busiest container port, Rotterdam, has recorded a 5.8% increase in throughput for 2014, reaching 12.3 million teu, up 1% on 2013, and according to Allard Castelein, chief executive of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, “2015 throughput figures are expected to come up with same growth year on year.”
Further along the coast, Hamburg’s latest container throughput figures for the first nine months of 2014 have shown a significant 6.4% increase in container throughput by hitting 7.4 million teu during the nine month timeframe.
Meanwhile third place Antwerp has come in with an 8.98 million teu throughput for 2014, which was up 4.7% on the previous year.
In the UK, Southampton has shone in recent months, with the news that Southampton Container Terminal (SCT) has secured the UK port status slot for the various new container shipping alliances. The basic shareholding structure of the container port presently runs at 51% DP World and 49% Associated British Ports (ABP).
DP World Southampton managing director Chris Lewis says it has been a “challenging but rewarding year” for the terminal.
“The challenges began at the beginning of the year when unprecedented adverse weather conditions hit Europe, placing a lot of pressure on container handling yards such as ours at Southampton. As a result, idle times for export containers doubled, and this problem was later accentuated by vessels arriving out of schedule due to congestion problems in other ports such as Hamburg and Rotterdam,” Lewis says. “On top of this, we have had to adjust to an overall Europe market growth of around 10%.”
But recent awards given to DP World Southampton focussing on the UK’s “most productive” port, and the country’s “leading port operator” would appear to indicate there are rewards in this industry for hard work.
Over the last three years, the port has seen shipside productivity improve by around 30% and a container truck turnaround time of 20 minutes per container. Lewis firmly believes in the three-pronged approach that has prompted this achievement: people, systems and equipment.
“Business leaders often say people are our greatest asset, but you really have to embrace your staff and work as an integrated team to develop continuous improvement,” he says. “Explain the challenges, explain what you need to achieve, and you generally find people doing the job have some great ideas and provide the solution – it’s not only down to implementing management initiative.”
On the systems side, DP World Southampton’s improvements have included a new vehicle booking system known as the VBS, a self service gate system designed to improve arrival and turnaround times, and a new GPS system onboard straddle carriers.
“In addition, we are in the final stages of testing of the new NAVIS N4 terminal operating system, and this will be operational during the first quarter of 2015, to replace our in-house system which has been operational since 2010.”
A lot of industry focus at the moment is going on port expansion programmes and dredging initiatives, and at Southampton the end of the first quarter of 2014 saw the completion of the new SCT5 berth with a water depth alongside of 16 metres. With that depth, SCT5 can handle the latest generation container vessels, up to and beyond the maximum in service and on order at the present time.
Vessels of up to 15.5 metres draft can safely be handled, and with Southampton a last port of call outbound from Europe on many of the services, this is an important factor for high deadweight cargoes.
According to Lewis, the investment in this new 500 metre long berth was not driven by “the need for more capacity so much as having the capability the handle the deployment of ultra large container vessels being deployed on the Asia/Europe trade.”
Two of the newly-announced Ocean Three alliance services will call at the DP World Southampton terminal, and in addition, one of the 2M alliance services will complete the new additions list. These new services are in addition to the existing nine G6 alliance Asia/Europe and transatlantic services already handled.
In the Mediterranean/southern Europe region, one of the big plus points for the ports is the transhipment potential, particularly for the north/south trade conduits such as West Africa.
Ideally located for such business is the port of Algeciras at the western end of the Mediterranean. The port and its container terminal is almost totally focussed on the transhipment sector. Algeciras is recognized as Spain’s largest container handling; APM Terminals Algeciras accounts for around 76% of the port’s throughput.
Mid-2014 saw the port’s container handling facility take delivery of four new gantry cranes constructed by China’s ZMPC.
According to Javier Lancha, the terminal’s managing director, around 76% of the port’s container throughout was handled by APM Terminals Algeciras, and the terminal is achieving around 45,000 container moves per week at the moment.
“Last year witnessed a record 17,500 moves onboard one of the Maersk Triple E vessels deployed on the Asia/Europe AE10 service,” Lacha says. “We have seen steady growth over the terminal in recent years, and 2014 is expected to continue the trend as the terminal hit 2.3 million moves and a container throughput of 3.4 million teu compared to 2.1 million teu moves and a throughput of 3.29 million teu last year.”
But, as Lancha continues, it is not just about throughput that makes Algeciras a leading name in the port sector. “There are investments going on in terminal improvements, and we are halfway through a dredging programme that should be completed by next year. In addition, APM Terminals is investing in quayside container handling equipment and, at the moment, there is a US$73 million programme aimed at upgrading four existing quayside cranes.”
Incredibly, some 90-95% of the container throughput at APM Terminals Algeciras is achieved through the transhipment business and, as Lancha adds, the future trend is definitely positive. “Even given what some might see as a potentially volatile situation in our big transhipment areas, we firmly believe the transhipment business is fast becoming more important and relevant to us. Larger vessels are being deployed on most of the major east/west trade lanes, and there will always be transhipment requirements.”
Lancha says that at least 30% of the container volumes over the terminal are generated through Maersk services.
“Most of the overall transhipment volumes are generated through the West Africa and South America trades, and despite any potential political unrest that some areas within this trading parameter might present, it does not deter us from our concentration on the transhipment business.”
Also located at the western end of the Mediterranean is the port of Tangier, which has recently picked up several new direct calls. Tangier has secured another Europe/West Africa trade call courtesy of the UASC/Hanjin/Evergreen jointly-operated Med/West Africa relay service known as the WAF service.
Tangier will slot in as a new northbound call from West Africa during the last week of February; the call will be in addition to existing call at Algeciras on the WAF service. From late February/March, the WAF service will offer direct calls at Algeciras, Lagos (Tincan), Tema, Cotonou, Lome, Abidjan, Tangier and Algeciras. The first Tangier call is scheduled for February 20 by the 2,741 teu Cape Mayor.
News of the Tangier call comes after MOL (Mitsui-OSK Lines) confirmed it was to increase its coverage of the North Europe/West Africa trade with the launching of a new service, known as the ARX, from the second half of January. The new MOL ARX service will offer direct calls at Antwerp, Le Havre, Tangier, Dakar, Abidjan, Dakar, Tangier, and Antwerp.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean/southern Europe region, Malta is continuing to pick up on the transhipment business incentive.
The Ocean Three service network portfolio will obviously open up a number of new trade opportunities for the three lines, CMA-CGM, UASC and China Shipping. Among those opportunities is the new-look MINA service covering the Indian sub-continent/Middle East/Mediterranean/US East coast trades. From February, the MINA service will start offering new direct calls at Miami, Barcelona, Livorno and Malta, opening up service calls in both eastbound and westbound directions.
From mid-February, the service will offer connections eastbound between Malta and the Middle East/Arabian Gulf direct calls at Khorfakkan, Jebel Ali, Karachi, Nhava Sheva, Mundra, Jeddah, Port Said (East), Livorno, La Spezia, Genoa, Fos, Barcelona, Valencia, Tangier, New York, Norfolk, Savannah, Miami, Tangier, Valencia, Barcelona, Livorno, Genoa, Malta, Port Said (East), Jeddah and Khorfakkan.
First new direct call at Miami is scheduled for February 18, and on the eastbound leg, Barcelona on March 2, followed by Livorno on March 4 and last port outbound from the Mediterranean, Malta, on March 8. Importantly, transit times eastbound include from Malta to Jeddah in six days, and Khorfakkan in 13 days, which rank among the fastest in the industry for the Mediterranean/Middle East trade.
By Paul Richardson
Sea Freight Correspondent | London