Finished vehicle movements in Belgium - expansion and innovation

2018 has seen many shifting trade flows, political upheavals and exchange-rate fluctuations in Europe, which have all had a considerable impact on ports handling finished vehicles in the region. Simon Duval Smith looks at two ports in Belgium: Antwerp and Zeebrugge

The year has seen Germany’s Bremerhaven and Emden and the Dutch ports of Amsterdam and Vlissingen hit with some declines whereas Antwerp and Zeebrugge in Belgium have seen growth. Ann de Smet, Key Account Manager, Shipping Lines at the Port of Antwerp (APA) says that the port of Antwerp’s ro-ro volume, measured up until October shows a steady growth. Joachim Coens, Chairman and Managing Director of Port of Zeebrugge says: “The success of the growth of Zeebrugge can be found in the unique combination of shortsea and deepsea services, the balance between import and export and the opportunity for growth, all contributing to added value logistics.” 

Varying volumes to and from China
Ann de Smet
Ann de Smet

Some of these changes have perhaps been driven by a fall in exports to the Far East, as more vehicle assembly plants have opened in China in 2016 and 2017. Ann de Smet says that this is a continuing factor for some models, “But when China starts producing certain models, the overstock may need to come to back in the end.” There has been a growing demand for handling shipping to and from China for the Port of Zeebrugge but in recent times there has been some uncertainty about volumes; Joachim Coens is quietly confident. "China is a very large player in the world market so the trade to and from there has a certain momentum but it all depends on the platform and services you can provide. We (the Port of Zeebrugge) certainly expect continuing connections with China,” he says.

Congestion and infrastructure

Congestion in harbours and on land at ports is a major issue for many port operators, and is becoming more acute as volumes increase. I ask de Smet how these factors have affected the Port of Antwerp. She says that location is a major advantage for Antwerp. “Being centrally located in Europe, the port and particularly the city of Antwerp is the crossroads of all European roads to the north and the south. As a result, the ring road around Antwerp is quite busy and this in combination with the annually growing container traffic challenges the port authority to quickly find solutions. In our business plan of 2018 to 2020, one of the five strategic objectives of the port is mobility, because the port must at all times remain accessible for goods and people. Only a far-reaching modal shift will be able to offer a sustainable solution. And therefore the port has invested in a network of bicycle buses and water buses to improve the mobility of people that work in the port area.

“Regarding container transport we aim to double the proportion of rail freight while modestly increasing the barge freight share, by implementing a more modern approach to traffic management. To reduce the number of empty truckings as much as possible, our terminal opening hours are also extended.”

Expansion of the Port of Zeebrugge is continuing as Joachim Coens says: "We have given more land to WWL and to ICO and we also have a new road around the port so we have no problems with congestion. Overall, we are not significantly affected because we still have space for growth, in fact we are currently implementing expansion plans for our partners ICO, WWL, P&O and C.Ro.”

Brexit and US protectionism

The UK’s exit from the EU is expected to cause issues with bilateral trade agreements, customs, currency effects and investments (or disinvestments) in the UK by car manufacturers. As I write this, the outcome of the UK’s internal Brexit wrangling is becoming more not less uncertain and we can expect some considerable repercussions to the finished vehicle logistics picture in Europe, depending on how the UK’s exit from the EU takes place, if indeed it does happen. Ann de Smet says that the Port of Antwerp is taking some preventative measures and she has a positive outlook. “The UK is the third-largest maritime trade partner for the port of Antwerp. One of various initiatives the Antwerp Port Authority has taken is appointing a new representative for the UK and Ireland - Justin Atkin. He started in his new role as of 1 September this year. With his help, we will prioritise our focus on maintaining and even expanding our market position with the UK.”

Joachim Coens
Joachim Coens

Joachim Coens says that, “In cooperation with Port of Zeebrugge, the Customs authority in Zeebrugge has opened an information point for all custom matters relating to Brexit where four customs specialists have been appointed to be available during office hours.” He points out that, “The Federal Public Service Finance believes that larger companies have more access and judicial knowledge to prepare for Brexit, whereas smaller companies often don't.” 

President Trump's protectionist policies are having global repercussions; while they may not come to have significant impact in Europe, they are of some concern to port authorities and operators as Ann de Smet says: “Protectionist measurements are usually well meant, but often arouse a chain of counter reactions which may result more in suffering than benefit.”

Joachim Coens says that, “They [protectionist measures] are not good for the global automotive supply chain, an industry that requires frictionless trade. If trade is affected, it will have repercussions for Zeebrugge because we act as a worldwide hub.”

Flexibility and IT developments

I ask both executives if they are seeing enough flexibility from shipping lines in diverting ships to less busy ports at peak times. Ann de Smet says: “Most shipping lines will try to find a solution where they also benefit, but a lot will depend on the final destination of the cargo and the cost consequences that follow any decision on re-routing.” Joachim Coens comments that, “It is not a problem at present but the automotive industry and shipping traffic combine to make a constantly-changing picture so shipping companies may need to be more flexible in the future, as the European and global auto manufacturing and sales landscape changes.”

As vehicles are becoming ever more connected, I ask de Smet if the Port of Antwerp is investing in connectivity with ships and vehicles to speed flow through the port and make finding and moving every vehicle in and out of the port as fast as possible. She says that there is a ‘digital transition’ underway: “A strategic objective of our port is transition: in the digital transition the APA aims to lead by example by 2020. We perceive data to be raw material for a better customer experience and higher efficiency. As such, we will continue to be an active partner of NxtPort – a central data platform which will act as a cornerstone for a digital ecosystem and a lively start-up community. And our Chief Digitalisation and Innovation officer, Erwin Verstraelen, has just been chosen as CIO of the year by Data New, so we feel that we are definitely on the right track.” Joachim Coens says that the Port of Zeebrugge is investing in conjunction with its partners RX/Seaport, with measures including introducing advanced IT systems at car terminals. 

Zeebrugge - Toyota’s preferred European hub

The Port of Zeebrugge has a very well-developed relationship with Toyofuji, the service company exporting Toyotas from the plant at Onnaing, near Valenciennes and Coens says that Zeebrugge is especially attractive for the Japanese transplant for various reasons: "Toyota has its own 'platform' at the Port, it has its own concession. It also has its headquarters in Brussels and a Technical Centre here in Belgium, in Zaventem so Zeebrugge is its ideal European distribution centre."

Toyofuji Shipping (TFS) and the port authority of Zeebrugge recently celebrated the shipment of 2 million vehicles between Zeebrugge and the ports of Grimsby and Sheerness.

Toyofuji Shipping started a European establishment in Zeebrugge in 2004. The first vehicle was shipped in 2005, on board of M/V Sea Cruiser 1.

“The port of Zeebrugge is of high value to us because we are a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation and they have a hub here. On the other hand, the largest automotive port in the world offers many possibilities for other transport,” says Luc Decock, general manager TFS in Europe. In 2020 TFS will raise capacity by deploying a larger ship on the Zeebrugge-Grimsby-Sheerness route.

Catering for alternative fuelled vehicles

With the rapidly accelerating advance of EVs and fuel cell vehicles, as well as some European vehicle makers and consumers adoption of CNG, LNG and other alternative fuels, I ask both executives if their facilities have plans to increase its EV charging infrastructure and possibly introduce hydrogen/LNG/CNG filling stations to help vehicle makers streamline their new energy vehicles’ route to their customers. Joachim Coens says that providing these facilities will be essential for a port to remain competitive. "We must provide for all the evolutionary steps of the automobile and if this includes providing EV charging, hydrogen filling and catering for self-driving vehicles, we will respond to these challenges. We are starting to implement the infrastructure for these requirements. Our partners ICO and WWL are implementing some extensive plans with regard to e-energy.”

The situation in Antwerp is slightly different but Ann de Smet says that the port’s operators will also respond. “The APA and Zeebrugge are landlord based models and lease the land to private port operators such as terminals. The terminals are responsible for installing the infrastructure that they need at their terminal. Following the market conditions, they will certainly be ready to accommodate their clients.” She explains that, “The alternative fuel system of both ports Zeebrugge and Antwerp is the same, but Zeebrugge is organised differently. Both ports need to make sure they provide the necessary green energy, and the terminals will take care of the infrastructure in their concessions.”

Eastern promise and priorities

Automotive production continues to migrate east in Europe, attracted by lower labour costs, more flexible employment and legislative terms. With more assembly plants being built and thus more localised shipping and changing rail transport profiles in mind, I ask the two executives how this has affected their respective ports. Ann de Smet says that, “The plants in eastern Europe often also export to overseas locations. In this respect we include the development of rail connections to the Eastern Part of Europe as one of our main priorities.”

Joachim Cens says that he does not fear competition from ports in eastern Europe but remarks that, "With more vehicle production moving east, ports in that region will win some market share but we feel that we are in a very strong position, covering all of Europe. We see more cargo coming to the Port of Zeebrugge from the eastern Europe, from the rise in production in that region.”

Zeebrugge - the world leader in roll-on roll-off traffic

The Port of Zeebrugge is the largest port in the world for importing and exporting roll-on roll-off cargo. A total of 2.8 million new vehicles and 1.3 million full truckloads were handled in 2017.

The roll-on roll-off units arrive and depart via an extensive selection of short sea and deep-sea operators that serve the specialist terminals, such as C.Ro, ICO, P&O, PSA, Toyota & WW Solutions. This makes the Port of Zeebrugge a hub for intercontinental and European goods flows.

The roll-on roll-off terminals and shipping companies also provide opportunities for handling project cargo and ‘high & heavy’ goods, as Joachim Coens tells me: “We are the global number one in automotive ro-ro, in a combination of deep-sea and short-sea shipping. This is not only in automotive but also for any wheeled vehicles - off-highway, construction and other heavy vehicles.”

The port’s roll-on roll-off handling operations include, at various quays and locations:

  • Toyota Terminal
  • International Car Operators
  • PSA Zeebrugge (Wielingen Terminal)
  • P&O Ferries Terminal
  • C.Ro Ports Zeebrugge (Swedish Quay)
  • C.Ro Ports Zeebrugge (Hermes Quay-Brittannia dock-Minerva Square)
  • C.Ro Ports Zeebrugge (Canada Quay)
  • C.Ro Ports Zeebrugge
  • International Car Operators (Northern Inletbassin)
  • International Car Operators (Bastenaken Terminal)
  • International Car Operators (Hanzeterminal Zeebrugge)
  • Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Zeebrugge.

Port of Zeebrugge has reported a growth of 7.7% after the first three quarters of 2018 compared to the same period last year. There was a total cargo volume of 29,806,359 tonnes handled in Zeebrugge. The increase is situated in the roro sector (+8.2%) and liquid bulk (+48.7%).

The roll-on/roll-off traffic grew 8.2% to a total of nearly 12 million tonnes. Growth is registered for the UK (+2.3%), Ireland (+7.8%) and Scandinavia (+1.7%)

Zeebrugge handled a total of 2,091,374 new vehicles (+0.4%).

14-15 May 2019 - Graz, Austria

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Port of Antwerp - ramping up its ro-ro capabilities

For roll-on/roll-off shipping, the port of Antwerp offers a variety of solutions. Thanks to permanent investments in specialised infrastructure and equipment, skilled workers, a varied offer of maritime lines and services, the port of Antwerp has worked to develop its status as a strong link in the global supply chain of rolling stock.

Specialised terminals: 
  • Vehicle processing centres
  • Varied offer of maritime lines
  • Services with high added value
  • Expansion of e-desk for ro-ro cargo
  • Figures
  • Specialised terminals: Vehicle processing centres.

The port of Antwerp has vast ro/ro terminals where new and second-hand vehicles but also machines, heavy machinery, project cargo and other rolling stock are handled. These terminals are renowned for their excellent knowhow and project management as well as the specialised equipment for the handling of rolling stock. All terminals have trimodal access which means cars and heavy machinery or project cargo quickly and flexibly find their way to the end customer.

Varied offer of maritime lines

These ro/ro terminals are often the European shortsea hub or global hub for trans-shipment to Africa. Antwerp is the European home port of brands such as Fiat, Ford, Opel, BMW, Renault, Mazda, Hyundai, Chevrolet and KIA. 

A European hub for rolling stock, Antwerp has a diverse offer of feeder services.

Services with high added value

The Port of Antwerp does more than the shipping, loading and discharging of rolling stock. Services are offered which further optimise the handling of rolling stock and make the further transport of goods to the end customer more efficient. They include special storage options but also vehicle processing centres.

Examples of these services are:
  • installing accessories (bumpers, towing hooks, air-conditioning, etc.)
  • repair
  • washing / dewaxing / spraying
  • second stage manufacturing.
Expansion of e-Desk for ro-ro cargo

After the successful launch of the e-Desk for container export, C-point is now working on the e-Desk for ro-ro cargo. In cooperation with the terminals of ICO in Antwerp and Zeebrugge, with AET (Antwerp Euro Terminal) in Antwerp and with WWL terminals in Zeebrugge, an electronic solution has been launched to ensure a smooth reporting and monitoring of the output messages for the export of cars and trucks.

E-Desk informs the terminal operator about cargo arriving and to pass on export clearance details electronically. It offers a paperless export process.

E-Desk enables the user (forwarder, exporter, shipper etc.) to inform the terminal operator about the arrival of a consignment, with the following details:

  • Type of document
  • Exit Customs office
  • MRN number
  • Container number/VIN number
  • Terminal (optional)
  • Order reference (optional).

The terminal operator can call up this information at any time. Other users can only call up and modify the e-Desk details of which they are the owner.

Port Authority bears the full cost of development and operation of the standard functions.

It also bears the message costs for sending the information electronically (by XML message) and the costs of connection to the communication network (using a supported standard protocol).

Notification of arrival of export consignment

Used by the "trader at exit" to notify the Customs office in the port of exit when the goods physically arrive at the terminal.

MRN exchange

Used by the "trader at exit" when particular goods arrive on the terminal, to inform the Customs authorities in the port of exit, as required by the EU Export Control System (ECS). 

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