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Ghent may be “the best kept secret in the Hamburg to Le Havre range”, as commercial director, Hendrik-Jan van Engelen puts it, but the Belgian port is working hard to put itself on the European logistics map. It is in fact already Belgium’s biggest dry bulk port and the the third largest in overall tonnage terms, as well as a major industrial port with Volvo, Stora Enso and the steel industry among its customers. There is also a regular service to

Containerships St

Petersburg, currently operated by 1,000teu vessels but due soon to be enhanced to 1,500teu ships. But under the 2010 strategic

plan, Ghent plans to transform itself

into a logistics hub for

north-west Europe. It has earmarked a number of major sites for development for added- value activities, which will help transport the port into a supply chain hub. The development plan goes

hand in hand with a scheme to add a second, larger lock on the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal,

which currently constrains the maximum size of vessel to around 4,500-5,000teu. That is not really an issue for the short-sea trades that Ghent is marketing itself to, but it also reduces the number of vessels that can be handled. Terneuzen is an enclave of

the Netherlands, so the deal is a multinational one


the Dutch and Belgian Flanders governments. Finance has been agreed and an environmental impact study is under way, with a planned opening scheduled for about 2020. “Our task now is to prepare the

port for the post lock opening era,” explains Van Engelen. The plan is not to try to chase

the mega containership trade, which would be “commercial suicide”, but rather: “to expand logistics capability.” Central to that will be 600 hectares of greenfield land, in the Kluizendok area and two dry port sites at Rieme North and De Nest. Ghent’s strengths, Van Engelen argues, is its readily available

labour force and its ability to offer value-added services, with the possibility of large warehouses directly connected to the new container terminal. As well as short sea services, there are also inland barge links to nearby major ports, rail services and the Scheldt Leſt Bank in Antwerp is less than an hour’s drive by truck. The major ports of north-

west Europe like Antwerp and Rotterdam are increasingly moving activities that don’t need to be inside their own dock estates to satellite areas in order to reduce congestion and free up more space for container handling operations, and Ghent is in a good position to capitalise on this trend. The container terminal is also

being upgraded and can in theory handle panamax sized ships, although in practice the short- sea ships that Ghent is planning to attract will be well below this size. (The 12.5m current draſt, 265m maximum length and 37m width are useful for the port’s bulk trades though, and this limit

More sailings from Moerdijk

Short-sea operator A2B-online has chartered a third, 326teu, container vessel and stepped up its service from the Dutch port of Moerdijk to Immingham to five days a week – but there is more to come, says UK general manager, Rinus Scheyde. The plan is to expand the current weekly service to Teesport and three a week to London Thamesport into five days a week operations. This will not be until autumn at the earliest, but it is definitely in the company’s plans for the future. The catalyst for the upgrade of

the Immingham service was the decision by a rail operator bringing in a bulk commodity to divert its three days a week train from Geleen in the south of Holland away from Rotterdam to Moerdijk. The cargo is containerised on the quayside and then travels to Immingham on one of the three ships. This gave A2B the extra volume it needed to offer the sailing. With the other services, it

may be a matter of assembling a number of smaller commitments until there is enough critical mass to justify chartering more ships. Increasing the frequency of all services to daily would increase

the service’s attractiveness, Scheyde considers. “I’m from a trailer operating background myself and one of our competitive advantages over intermodal used to be speed. But if the service is every day, you offer a comparable service with containers, picking up on Monday and delivering on Wednesday for example – while offering cheaper prices and lower emissions.” The trains and ships will handle

third party containers, but A2B has invested in its own fleet of 45ſt pallet-wide containers and is due to take delivery of 100 more. It also operates an extensive road haulage fleet, which currently performs around 400 trailer moves a week but is set to grow soon to around 500 a week. There are in fact three haulage

subsidiaries within the group – A2B Transport in the UK, which operates ten trucks and which provides the link from the port to customer. There is also A2B Polska, which operates mainly unaccompanied trailers on the Continent; and a third company, Seatrans. Moerdijk offers a smaller and

more accessible alternative to Rotterdam to the north. The A2B

service in fact started when the port authority asked the managing director, Gerard de Groot, to carry out an exercise to see if a short-sea service to the UK was viable – and then, when he’d completed the task, asked him to go ahead and set one up. “Moerdijk is in an ideal

location to capture any traffic coming up from the Ruhr or the south, as it cuts out quite a few road miles,” says Scheyde. “And Rotterdam is the busiest part of the Netherlands.” The folks in Rotterdam may not

be too worried about competition from the small neighbour to the south. In fact, the larger port’s policy is to move operations that don’t need to be in the main port to smaller locations (or ‘transferiums’), such as Moerdijk. Business at Moerdijk has

built up since the port started operations; as well as A2B, there is also a UCI service to Immingham and Blyth and another to Tilbury.

Issue 5 2014 - Freight Business Journal

31 Ghent – no longer shipping’s best-kept secret

is set to increase still further once the new lock is open.) “We’re currently working

on developing more short- sea services, to the UK or Bay of Biscay areas,” continues van Engelen. “And we are also developing the rail link. At the moment we have a train on four days a week to Milan for containers, and the plan is to also extend it to Rome. And we’re also looking for other services to Spain and Lyon in France.” A rail terminal direct into Kluizendok went into service on 1 January. Barge connections for also currently

containers are

available to Rotterdam and, on a more limited basis, Antwerp but due to be upgraded to four a week soon, as well as to Zeebrugge. Ghent is part of the European

Union TEN-T network and can benefit from available funding. “In many ways we’re in an ideal

position,” says van Engelen. For instance, we have MSC serving the West Bank in Antwerp, which

is well under an hour away. And we have the likes of Maersk Line and China Shipping in Zeebrugge” – again only an hour or so away by road. Logistics firms don’t mind which port they use – they will make their decisions based on freight rates, demurrage charges and so on. One big plus of the Ghent

logistics area is that while it has direct access to the port, warehouses can use non-dock labour, which can be a big saving. At the same time, trucks from

the port to the logistics area do not have to use public roads, so high-weight containers can be unstuffed there. Belgian property specialist

Warehouses Depauw has already taken an option on 30 hectares of space, so things are beginning to move, says van Engelen. “We have all the pieces of the puzzle on the plate, so now we can work to get the first customers into the warehouses. And we’re also open to other developers and real estate providers, of course.”

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