European ports are reacting to challenges including the pandemic – but are proceeding with new initiatives
European ports have been hit by the impact of Covid and the Suez Canal incident – but are still progressing when it comes to new investments, improvements and digitalisation initiatives.
The impact of the Suez Canal blockage has had ramifications for European ports. As a result of the incident in the Suez Canal, Port of Antwerp says it expects higher levels of traffic in the terminals in the coming weeks (at time of writing in April). It says in a statement, it “is keeping its finger on the pulse with the shipping companies and the container terminals to see where space can be created for containers. Some terminals have already decided not to allow the arrival of containers for export at the terminal until a few days before they can be loaded. We are also looking at how we can optimise storage capacity inland and make even greater use of inland navigation and rail. It is important to work closely with the entire chain to make the best possible use of the available capacity”.
Port of Antwerp’s container throughput grew by 2.3% (TEU) in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020, which started strongly and then saw a downturn due to the initial effects of the pandemic in March 2020. January 2021 saw a continuation of the strong performance seen in Q3 2020, although several operational challenges hampered the operation of the container terminals. “There were long delays in container ship arrivals because of the coronavirus crisis. The severe cold snap in February had an additional negative impact on container handling and the effects of this continued into March. The Suez Canal incident will cause further delays to container ship calls throughout Q2,” the port says.
Port of Hamburg: digitalisation
Elsewhere, Port of Hamburg joint chief executive of marketing Axel Mattern gives CST a review of the impact of the pandemic on the port. “We came from a very strong 2019 and then the 2020 pandemic started. We were prepared for lower cargo at the start of the year due to the Chinese New Year – and basically in 2020 we had a prolonged Chinese New Year.
“In February, March and April we had decreased volumes, and we knew there would be less cargo in May, June and July last year. At the same time, everyone was quick in preparing for the new situation, and everything was running smoothly. There were very few cases of Covid-19 at the port.”
As Chinese production picked up, so did cargo volumes at the port. “And the export situation from Europe never really dropped last year as it was always on a very high level. At the end of year, we were only down 6% in cargo volumes in total,” Mr Mattern says.
“We look at total TEU to figure out what is happening behind figures, and the cargo going to and from the Hamburg hinterland was not dropping as total figures were.”
While the port had some empty containers and a decrease in transhipment cargo, those containers destined for Europe were still very strong. Mr Matern also notes there was no drop at all in US cargo destined for Europe.
And one benefit of the pandemic was that with port officials not travelling as much, the port authority could concentrate on future projects. “We took a big step forward in terms of implementing digital systems and new developments for port efficiency,” says Mr Mattern.
He expands, “The digitalisation is a mixture of intelligent infrastructure and a digital system where we are able to manage the infrastructure. We reconstructed several bridges in the port where they split up the road transportation.” He explains that digitalisation was used here so all traffic could be controlled and is completely visible.
He sums up, “There is a lot of digitalisation, a lot of information that has to be shared and communicated. The earlier you give information to the supply chain, the better the supply chain can react. We have travel operators implementing systems so that it is easier to communicate with barge, rail and trucking operators. These are now integrated into the bigger system and everything can be organised easier.”
At time of writing in March, a “continuous delay” in ships coming from Asia, caused by weather problems was causing all ports “quite a headache”. “It is causing a blockage in the terminal,” Mr Mattern notes. But digitalisation advancements are helping this situation. “Better systems and better integration, whereby the rail transporter can speak to the terminal operator, is helping but it is still quite a challenge,” says Mr Mattern. The weather-related delays started in October last year.
The port recently finished widening and deepening the River Elbe, allowing two ultra large container ships to pass each other. Mr Mattern says, “We can theoretically take double the number of ships as before. But the biggest point is that it makes operations easier. Before, ships had to wait to go into the port and but now, they do not have to as they pass each other in the middle making it much easier.”
Algeciras: growth opportunities
Elsewhere, Spain’s Port of Algeciras found opportunity for growth despite the pandemic. Algeciras Port Authority chairman Gerardo Landaluce tells CST, “During the 2020 pandemic, Algeciras Port remained the only operative maritime connection for Spain’s south-north roro traffic, and a reliable link for the east-west container flow supply chain. This allowed us to close 2020 with a contraction of only 1.94% over 2019.
“These two routes, aligned together over Algeciras, turns our port into the focal point of a regional value chain; combining east-west container traffic from Asia and the Americas and concentrating the Spanish and European supply chain from Morocco and North Africa.”
Despite pandemic difficulties, he says container traffic only suffered a 0.4% drop during 2020, once again exceeding 5M TEU.
He adds, “One of the many consequences of Covid-19 was the changes in global supply chains. New supply chain models arose to answer countries’ supply demands and to adapt to the latest industry trends.
“The new supply chain order brought the opportunity for Algeciras Bay Port to become the focal point of a regional value chain between southern Europe and north Africa and thus, to have a comprehensive vision on many strategic sectors between these two territories, such as automotive, textile and e-commerce.”
Algeciras Bay Port Authority’s current strategy is to consolidate its position within the European port system as southern Europe’s main gateway port and western European hub.
“In this sense, hinterland connectivity is a must to provide due coherence to the European railway network connecting Algeciras,” Mr Landaluce says.
“However, all future development projects will comply with the sustainability drivers demanded by the maritime industry and our society; for instance, carbon footprint reduction or promoting the supply of new environmentally sustainable fuels at Algeciras Port.”
An important development for the port is that CMA CGM has taken a stake in its TTIA terminal. Mr Landaluce says, “This will foster new investments and improvements in the terminal facilities during 2021. These investments are intended for the re-growth of five of their eight quay cranes to fully adapt TTIA to serve the new and future generation of mega-ships, as well as for new terminal equipment and IT systems.”
Furthermore, he says the agreement between HMM and CMA CGM brings the development of Isla Verde Exterior’ Phase B Terminal closer. “This shareholding change will reinforce the competitiveness of Algeciras Port and will offer new import-export options for southern Spanish companies,” says Mr Landaluce. “This successful operation also means that currently, all three main global shipping alliances are established at Algeciras in both an investor and client’s position.”
Algeciras Bay Port Authority is working on new development projects, mainly focused on intermodal infrastructure promotion and on creating a sound port-network of logistics areas to foster logistics activities and foreign investment.
Infrastructure projects include the rail motorway between Algeciras and Zaragoza. The TEN-T central rail branch will also have sustainability as one of its main drivers, helping to reduce the carbon footprint.
As for the logistics development, the new Algeciras Bay Logistics Area & Free Zone will become a reality during 2021, since public bidding will be opened shortly. Also, San Roque Inland Container Terminal will be fully operative this year.
Mr Landaluce says, “These developments will be aligned with our digital innovation strategy, adapting our services to the latest industry trends and challenges. Creating an advanced digital and innovative ecosystem for cargo events certainly is one of our drivers to evolve our role as port authority from a landlord role to a ‘port ecosystem orchestrator’ through digital innovation.”