Expanding operations

As the name would suggest, International Car Operators or ICO Terminals, is a world leading cargo handling specialist with a core focus on the car industry and roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) cargo. A subsidiary of the NYK Group, which is one of the world’s major transportation companies, ICO Terminals operates a number of terminals in Bruges and Antwerp. Two of these terminals are located in Zeebrugge – the Northern Inlet which covers an area of 59 hectares and the newest, Bastenaken, which is 90 hectares. The Vrasene terminal in Antwerp is the largest of the set, with a total space of 125 hectares. ICO Terminals’ main activities include the import of Korean, Japanese and some Indian car makes, and the export of European models. Known for its stevedoring services, ICO Terminals is market leader within Belgium, handling 1.7 million cars in 2008.

Marc Adriansens explains the company’s key strengths: “As well as stevedoring, we can also provide a number of additional services. All of our terminals contain a vehicle processing centre (VPC) where we can inspect the cars, add accessories to them and even carry out minor repairs if necessary, using our full range of facilities and specialist task force. We can also offer assistance with custom formalities, so as well as unloading the cargo we can prepare all the paperwork required and release the shipment to the dealer. This puts us in the unique position of being able to provide a total service to our customers and of course we have terminals in prime locations, with Zeebrugge mainly focused on transhipment and Antwerp used more for import cargo and distribution across Europe.”

Having witnessed a drop in volume in 2009 following the economic crisis, this year ICO Terminals is already experiencing a substantial 40 per cent increase in tonnage. Marc elaborates on the reasons behind the growth: “Naturally as the economy recovers from the recession we see an increase in activity which accounts for some of the increased volume. We also took a strategic decision last year to develop one of our terminals as a breakbulk terminal as well, which gives us access to new markets and a wider client base. Part of this is our recent joint venture with a company called Rhenus to form the Zeebrugge breakbulk terminal or ZBT. The aim of this partnership is to focus on breakbulk cargo, particularly within the four main areas of fruits and vegetables, sugar, pulp and wood products and steel.”

ZBT will be located at the Northern Inlet dock within the Port of Zeebrugge, occupying the deep and short-sea quays situated there. Marc highlights the reasons behind the new venture: “We have identified that within Zeebruge there is a lack of facilities to handle breakbulk cargo and we also see that increasing numbers of deep draft ships like to use Zeebrugge as a port, from which they can then use the excellent feeder network to ship goods to the UK and Nordic region or take advantage of inland distribution channels. This means our location is a major advantage in securing contracts within this industry and we also operate a flexible working environment which is appreciated by our customers.”

Next year ICO Terminals aims to begin to separate its different terminals in order to provide a more dedicated service for the various industries it operates in. This will include the gradual movement of all the ro-ro business to the southern terminals such as Bastenaken, enabling the other terminals to focus on the breakbulk market. Marc comments on this area of the business: “We’re starting work on one contract for the delivery of some perishables such as potatoes to Russia. We’re also doing some project cargo work for the wind industry and are in talks with major customers within the steel and break bulk industries so we hope to develop some contracts there as well.”

With the market showing encouraging signs of recovery, Marc describes how this affects ICO Terminals: “Last year, particularly within Zeebrugge, we saw a steep drop of approximately 50 per cent in volume. So far this year we have regained a lot of this loss and are currently operating at 70 per cent of our total capacity, with volumes of approximately 1.3 million cars. Activity within the industry is increasing and the main drivers behind this are the markets of Russia and eastern Europe, so we expect to see conditions continuing to improve.”

Having currently invested nearly 50 million euros in its terminals over the past few years, ICO Terminals continues with plans to develop its portfolio with another joint venture in the pipeline. Marc concludes with the company’s future ambitions: “We want to maintain our position as market leader within the ro-ro business in Belgium and continue to strengthen our activities in this area. We’re also looking at opportunities outside of Belgium where we can expand our position particularly within the car business and terminal facilities, as well as strengthen the ICO brand name.”

Belgium’s ro-ro market leaders

New joint venture breakbulk terminal

40 per cent increase in tonnage