Fit for the future

The coming decade promises to be transformative for the Port of Amsterdam. Aiming to become one of Europe’s most sustainable ports by 2030, it has set in motion a series of initiatives that will make its operations more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

“Our ambition is to phase out coal by 2030,” says Femke Brenninkmeijer, Director of Energy, Cargo and Offshore. “We are the second largest coal port in Europe, but the anticipated decrease in coal transport, together with our desire to develop in a sustainable way, have led us to start looking for different types of cargo to handle.”

Femke sees it as a positive sign that the Port of Amsterdam – the fourth busiest in Europe by cargo tonnage, with 100 million tonnes processed annually – once again increased the volumes it handled in 2018, whilst seeing a reduction in the figures for coal transported. “We have experienced good growth in agri, scrap and building materials transportation, but the most successful area for us was in the transhipment of containers where we had a 70 per cent growth.

“With the upscaling of volumes, we have also identified the opportunity work in close co-operation with our colleagues from the Port of Rotterdam in optimising inland container shipping. Together, with TMA, CTU and VCL we are establishing the North West Central Corridor and we expect this cargo consolidation to result in a more reliable barge product, more sustainable transport, and fewer handling delays at the terminals,” Femke discusses. “We are now bundling the cargo and the idea of the partnership is the vessels to consolidate between 150 and 200 containers at the various terminals for one deep sea container terminal in Rotterdam. To do this, seven inland vessels make 15 departures from Amsterdam every week, so that we can alleviate the pressure on the Port of Rotterdam.”

Going back to her original point, she makes it clear that becoming coal-free will require collaborative effort from a multitude of stakeholders and setting up partnerships will be paramount to achieving this goal. “The process will be a lengthy one and it will be impossible for one party to do everything on its own. It is important to remark that we do not want to part ways with those of our customers whose plans differ from our ambition to turn coal-free, but instead help them find new opportunities, where possible.

“Aside from that, we find it encouraging that a lot of new opportunities will arise as a result of Amsterdam’s continuing expansion as a metropolis. This suggests the upcoming construction of lots of new buildings, which will benefit the transhipment of building materials,” Femke points out.

For her, the efficient utilisation of the port’s land is another vital condition for its successful transformation in the next few years. She adds: “We do not have many greenfield sites, meaning that we need to be a bit more creative with the ways in which we develop and manage our area and infrastructure. There will be an even greater need for co-operation between the terminals and acting as a community where they help each other all the time will be an absolute necessity. What is more, as the world around us is changing so rapidly, our clients are looking for a lot more flexibility. In the past, we used to provide them with a piece of land for 50 years, but this is not always practical for them, as their business might be completely different in as short period of time as ten years.”

As Femke puts it, “all of the aforementioned ideas aim at pushing the business development capabilities of the Port of Amsterdam.” Pursuing its vision, the organisation is also planning on growing its import activities. She explains: “Previously, we used to look at faraway countries for management consultancy, but we have now adapted our strategy and established a strong partnership with Port of Amsterdam International to see what opportunities we can find in three particular regions – Germany, the UK and Ireland, and the Baltic area. Again, it is a programme designed to support our willingness to attract more cargo to Amsterdam and mix our export activities with some import, as well.”

In fact, one of the most noteworthy highlights in 2018 for the Port of Amsterdam was Hutchison Ports’ acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in TMA Logistics. The latter has a wide range of general cargo terminal operations, alongside warehousing, shipping, logistics, and project cargo activities at three sites in Amsterdam, one in Antwerp, as well as the Hutchison Ports’ Amsterdam Container Terminal (ACT). The operation enlivened the terminal and shortly after, a new short sea container service between Amsterdam and Hull was formally inaugurated.

The new service is operated by Samskip and currently offers three sailings a week, with vessels departing from Amsterdam on Mondays, Wednesday, and Saturdays,” comments Femke. “Towards the end of the year, Samskip launched another new service – a rail connection between Melzo, east of Milan, and Amsterdam, operating three times a week. Unloading along 750m intermodal rail tracks inside TMA Logistics’ Holland Cargo Terminal (HCT), it not only avoids driver delays, but also arrives in Amsterdam just in time for Samskip’s short sea departures to Hull, thus creating a seamless multimodal option to minimise potential post-Brexit border control issues,” she expounds the benefits of the new lines.

“We are confident that the UK leaving the EU might also open up some good opportunities for us. For example, there is the possibility of short sea services gaining in popularity at the expense of ferries, and Amsterdam will be ready with the infrastructure to accommodate the emerging requirements, should that happen,” she continues.

In line with its strategy to future-proof the business, the Port of Amsterdam is presently in the process of constructing the world’s largest sea lock, whose completion is expected in 2022. “This is a hugely important development, because the old lock is coming to the end of its life. The new one will be not only larger, but also more reliable and tide-independent, and once it opens, the port will be accessible 24/7,” reveals Femke.

In order to remain competitive, the Port of Amsterdam has come to the realisation that it has to harness the opportunities provided by ‘big data’ and direct its efforts towards introducing digitalisation as part of its quest for efficiency across the port. “If I were to draw your attention to one particular initiative we have launched in recent times, then I would single out our automatic identification system (AIS) tool for barge planning, which makes the ship-handling process smarter, thereby reducing waiting times and improving customer satisfaction,” Femke notes, also saying that the Port authorities meet monthly to monitor the performance of each part of the port and identify the areas that need improvement.

Finally, she recaps by naming the main challenge for the port in the coming years. “We have to keep our hinterland connection as strong as possible. It is a dense area we are operating within, so we are focusing on how we can claim enough capacity for the cargo and all the logistics operations, and achieve the level of efficiency that will allow us to continue playing a central role on a global scale.”

Port of Amsterdam
Fourth largest European port by cargo tonnage
Currently building the world’s largest sea lock
Ambition to become coal-free by 2030