Rot­ter­dam ship­ping com­pa­nies firm­ly com­mit­ted to sustainability

Shortsea is a sustainable and economical alternative to other modalities. This miniseries spotlights Rotterdam's global players in the sector. In this part, BG Freight Line, W.E.C. Lines and Samskip discuss the strengths of Rotterdam's largest shortsea hub in the Waal-Eemhaven area and the undisputedly most critical trends in the market; specifically sustainability.

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The­re is yet much uncer­tain­ty, both of future-proof tech­ni­ques as well as on legis­la­ti­on and regu­la­ti­ons. Howe­ver, wai­ting is not an opti­on. To remain com­pe­ti­ti­ve, action is requi­red now. And that is exact­ly what the­se three ship­ping com­pa­nies are doing.

Rotterdam’s Waal-Eemhaven is home to the City Ter­mi­nal, Europe’s lar­gest short­sea clus­ter. Com­bi­ned with the high con­cen­tra­ti­on of coope­ra­ting (short­sea) ter­mi­nals and short­sea ser­vice pro­vi­ders, the clus­ter gua­ran­tees fast and relia­ble trans­port and tran­ship­ment of goods throug­hout Euro­pe. In addi­ti­on to Rot­ter­dam Short­sea Ter­mi­nals (RST), Matrans Rot­ter­dam Ter­mi­nal, Rail Ser­vice Cen­ter (RSC) and Cool­port, the­re is the Kra­mer con­tai­ner depot and a con­tai­ner repair yard. In the near future, ser­vices will be expan­ded to include cross­dock acti­vi­ties by Neele-Vat. Rot­ter­dam also offers the lar­gest net­work of fee­der ser­vices con­nec­ting to inter­na­tio­nal liner ser­vices and a direct con­nec­tion to deep­sea liner con­nec­tions with more than 140 inter­na­tio­nal ports.

One cen­tral loca­ti­on for all services

“The strength of the Waal-Eemhaven area is that all ser­vices are brought tog­e­ther in one loca­ti­on,” Cae­sar Lui­ken­aar sta­tes. Until recent­ly, Lui­ken­aar was respon­si­ble for all short­sea acti­vi­ties of W.E.C. Lines. As of July 1, 2023, he is the acting CEO of this ship­ping company.

“Pre­cis­e­ly”, Koert Luit­wie­ler, CEO of BG Freight Line adds, “becau­se of the com­bi­na­ti­on with deep­sea, you must make a round of Rot­ter­dam. In this branch, the­re is a lot of tran­ship­ment car­go as well. If you can load and unload car­go in one cen­tral loca­ti­on, tran­sit times and cos­ts are kept to a minimum.”

Maciek Chel­mow­ski, Regio­nal Direc­tor West Euro­pe at Samskip, nods and con­ti­nues: “The tri­mo­dal natu­re of the Rot­ter­dam short­sea ter­mi­nal is essen­ti­al. But ever­y­thing should func­tion pro­per­ly. Other­wi­se, it turns into a bot­t­len­eck.” Ship­ping com­pa­nies want to offer relia­bi­li­ty, and accor­ding to the­se three gen­tle­men, this was not always pos­si­ble in the past. Sin­ce the short­sea ter­mi­nal, the rail ter­mi­nal and the ship­ping lines joi­n­ed forces, the pro­ces­sing times of con­tai­ners have impro­ved sub­stan­ti­al­ly, allo­wing more con­tai­ners to be taken off the road and for ship­ping com­pa­nies to pro­vi­de a more sus­tainable alter­na­ti­ve. Chel­mow­ski: “For all con­tai­ners, we can gua­ran­tee that they will be pro­ces­sed bet­ween rail and sea ter­mi­nal within 24 hours. In prac­ti­ce, con­tai­ners are pro­ces­sed even fas­ter; within 12 hours. The­re is also more trans­pa­ren­cy.” Luit­wie­ler: “In the past whe­re mis­com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on cau­sed par­ties to point at each other, now the­re is clear com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on. Focus is no lon­ger about pas­sing respon­si­bi­li­ty to ano­ther, but rather sha­ring it with each other.”

Hin­ter­land near­by and unmat­ched flexibility

Many of the ship­ping com­pa­nies’ cus­to­mers are in clo­se pro­xi­mi­ty to the short­sea clus­ter. The short distances to and from ter­mi­nals along with the high degree of fle­xi­bi­li­ty make it pos­si­ble for car­go to be accept­ed until just befo­re ship­ping. This also allows for strong com­pe­ti­ti­on with other modalities.

“If you first had to dri­ve to the Maas­vl­ak­te with all the con­tai­ners for exam­p­le, it would cost both time and money. Extra invest­ments are now avo­ided becau­se the Waal-Eemhaven area is loca­ted more inland. This offers advan­ta­ges in terms of effi­ci­en­cy and deploya­bi­li­ty,” Chel­mow­ski adds. “In theo­ry, car­go can be deli­ver­ed just up to an hour befo­re ship­ping. That degree of fle­xi­bi­li­ty is real­ly unparalleled.”

The direct con­nec­tion to RSC – and thus to the Hin­ter­land – also plays an important role. “Many cus­to­mers choo­se a ship­ping com­pa­ny from this point. It is a kind of tra­vel agen­cy for short­sea,” Lui­ken­aar explains. The clus­ter the­r­e­fo­re remains a clean and cost-efficient alter­na­ti­ve to road trans­port in particular.

Of cour­se, the ship­ping lines con­ti­nue to look cri­ti­cal­ly at ship­ping sche­du­les and port calls. “Cer­tain­ly if the­re is less car­go in the mar­ket and in view of the over­all sus­taina­bi­li­ty dis­cus­sion, you look careful­ly at whe­ther you can per­haps redu­ce port calls and ope­ra­te an even bet­ter in sche­du­le,” Lui­ken­aar sta­tes. “The same is true if you look at what a port call cos­ts; not only in terms of time, but also in terms of money. The­se are serious amounts,” Luit­wie­ler adds. “It is then defi­ni­te­ly an advan­ta­ge if a port offers sca­le and short­sea ser­vices are con­cen­tra­ted, such as in the Waal-Eemhaven area.”

Sus­taina­bi­li­ty, undis­pu­ted key trend

Sus­taina­bi­li­ty is indis­pu­ta­b­ly the key chall­enge facing the indus­try more than ever. On this the ship­ping com­pa­nies unani­mously agree. “2023 Is the year in which we are all mea­su­ring what we are emit­ting. Based on this, more actions will be taken. All of us are ful­ly com­mit­ted to more sus­tainable short­sea ope­ra­ti­ons. If you don’t take fur­ther action now, it will cost you big money,” Lui­ken­aar says. He is refer­ring to the Euro­pean Tra­ding Sys­tem, which appli­es from Janu­ary 1, 2024. “From then on, 40 per­cent of emis­si­ons will be taxed. The fol­lo­wing year it will be 70 per­cent and even­tual­ly it will go to 100 per­cent. Then we are tal­king serious amounts of money,” Luit­wie­ler explains. “It is abso­lut­e­ly no opti­on to sim­ply sit back and wait. Espe­ci­al­ly sin­ce every year the­re are fewer oppor­tu­ni­ties to buy off pollution.”

Many initia­ti­ves

Each of the ship­ping com­pa­nies is the­r­e­fo­re deve­lo­ping various initia­ti­ves to make their ope­ra­ti­ons more sus­tainable. W.E.C. Lines and BG Freight Line have opted for new ship­buil­ding. Until then, the ship­ping com­pa­nies are focu­sing on bio­fuels. “Low-hanging fruit,” Luit­wie­ler calls it. “An ide­al start on the way to the final goal for a future-proof fleet in 2030.” They are also loo­king at tech­ni­ques for cap­tu­ring CO2, redu­cing par­ti­cu­la­te mat­ter and redu­cing noi­se. Curr­ent­ly, 30 per­cent of CO2 emis­si­ons are alre­a­dy cap­tu­red. Tech­ni­cal­ly it is fea­si­ble to cap­tu­re up to 90 per­cent, but in order to make that finan­ci­al­ly rea­li­stic at the moment, sca­le is needed.

Samskip has been using bio­fuels for years and is inves­t­ing hea­vi­ly in sus­taina­bi­li­ty. We recent­ly inves­ted in a fleet expan­si­on with two hydro­gen ships. For Rhi­ne ship­ping from Rot­ter­dam to Duis­burg, a hybrid, elec­tri­cal­ly powered, bar­ge pro­ject is start­ing. “That busi­ness case is even more rea­li­stic now than we initi­al­ly thought,” Chel­mow­ski says. Fur­ther­mo­re, Samskip is deploy­ing hydro­trea­ted vege­ta­ble oil (HVO) for trucks in Scan­di­na­via and explo­ring dif­fe­rent opti­ons in the Net­her­lands to do the same.”

Lack of clarity

To make sus­taina­bi­li­ty initia­ti­ves pro­fi­ta­ble, the­se three gen­tle­men say mar­ket accep­tance plays an important role. “In Scan­di­na­via we have good expe­ri­en­ces and see that cus­to­mers are wil­ling to pay 3 to 4 per­cent extra for clea­ner trans­port. That by no means covers the hig­her cos­ts incur­red, but it is a start,” Chel­mow­ski con­ti­nues. Accor­ding to him, it would be much more effec­ti­ve if other moda­li­ties were sub­ject to the same CO2 tax.

Luit­wie­ler could­n’t agree more: “Equal tre­at­ment for all,” he says. Accor­ding to the CEO, the­re is a lack of cla­ri­ty on the mat­ter; “Not only in terms of sanc­tions, or for how long bio­fuels will be incen­ti­vi­zed. Espe­ci­al­ly when loo­king at stan­dards and forward-looking tech­no­lo­gies, cla­ri­ty is lack­ing as well. After all, the invest­ments invol­ved in making the short­sea sec­tor more sus­tainable are sub­stan­ti­al; invest­ments that are made for 20 to 25 years. Then it is, to put it mild­ly, useful to know whe­re we stand and which direc­tion we are heading.”

Natio­nal govern­ments have limi­t­ed influence on this, accor­ding to the ship­ping com­pa­nies, but can cer­tain­ly con­tri­bu­te by means such as road tax for more pol­lu­ting road trans­port. But the ball is main­ly with Brussels. Luit­wie­ler: “The­re they can address geo­gra­phi­cal ine­qua­li­ty in terms of regu­la­ti­ons at the same time.”

Indi­rect consequences

As an indi­rect effect of making the short­sea sup­p­ly chain more sus­tainable, the­re is increased pres­su­re on orga­niza­ti­ons. “You need in-house know­ledge,” Lui­ken­aar points out. “Smart, talen­ted peo­p­le, who see and under­stand the social bene­fit and also want to con­tri­bu­te.” For this reason, W.E.C. Lines is try­ing more than ever to be an attrac­ti­ve employ­er and to give employees insight into the impact of various sus­taina­bi­li­ty initia­ti­ves. “Still, it is quite dif­fi­cult to find and retain the right peo­p­le in today’s tight labor mar­ket,” Lui­ken­aar notes.

“Alt­hough you can find good peo­p­le in other count­ries and we are get­ting more and more used to the pos­si­bi­li­ties of remo­te working, it remains a chall­enge,” Chel­mow­ski responds. Samskip mean­while has a sepa­ra­te sus­taina­bi­li­ty depart­ment whe­re employees

are enga­ged only with sus­taina­bi­li­ty. “Samskip’s sky-high sus­taina­bi­li­ty ambi­ti­ons also attract young talent,” accor­ding to Chel­mow­ski: “It is gre­at to be deal­ing with future-proof pro­jects on a dai­ly basis. Cer­tain­ly young peo­p­le see it as a chall­enge to par­ti­ci­pa­te in a low-emission or emission-free sup­p­ly chain. But becau­se our ambi­ti­ons are that high, it is cru­cial that tho­se employees under­stand the ope­ra­ti­on from A to Z.”

Bot­tom line

Cle­ar­ly, ship­ping com­pa­nies can­not afford to sit back and wait. They are forced to be crea­ti­ve right now and that gene­ra­tes a lot of gre­at initia­ti­ves. Very few par­ties are bet­ting on just one hor­se. The­re is no need for that eit­her, as the­re are count­less opti­ons. “Part­ly for that reason, it is wise to keep your eyes and ears open and be well infor­med,” Lui­ken­aar con­cludes. “When making ships and ope­ra­ti­ons more sus­tainable, it is more important than ever to share infor­ma­ti­on and know­ledge.” The Port of Rot­ter­dam Aut­ho­ri­ty also has a role to play here, for exam­p­le by orga­ni­zing know­ledge ses­si­ons and sha­ring know­ledge with par­ties in the market.


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