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Barge operators at Rotterdam have suffered a challenging first quarter this year, with container terminal congestion ruining schedules week after week, but APM Terminals’ new futuristic Maasvlakte II facility is designed to significantly improve inland supply chain productivity with a dedicated barge quay.

A spectacular ‘box ballet’ demonstration of the new terminal’s automation brought a standing ovation from more than 500 global shipping executives as King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands officially opened the €500m facility on Friday.

Branded “the world’s most technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable container terminal”, the 2.7m teu capacity facility is the first to employ remote-controlled ship-to-shore (STS) gantry cranes.

The eight electric-powered STS cranes are served by a landside fleet of 62 battery-powered lift-automated guided vehicles and 54 automated rail-mounted gantry cranes, and with the power generated by wind, the operator claims the terminal is emission-free.

Constructed on land reclaimed from the North Sea, the 86ha terminal has 1,000 metres of quay, with two additional barge cranes and two rail cranes. It has been designed as a multimodal hub to reduce the number of containers moving by road.

APMT chief executive Kim Fejfer called Maasvlakte II a “game-changer” and said that because of the automation, shipping line customers would experience 40% higher productivity.

The Dutch king (centre) accompanied by AP Moller executives

The Dutch king (centre) accompanied by AP Moller executives


Indeed, it was hard to find anybody at the event that was not highly impressed by the futuristic technology of the facility, which handled its first main line vessel in December and is expected to be a blueprint for other APMT projects around the world.

But APMT executives were quick to remind us that to get a return on the company’s significant investment it needed carriers and shippers to commit cargo to the facility.

A source told The Loadstar: “APMT has delivered, now it’s down to the carriers to do the same.”

This may be a nod to the ‘you need to up your game’ criticism levelled at ports from container lines during periods of acute container terminal congestion in North Europe in the past few years.

Barge and feeder operators are invariably the biggest sufferers of container terminal congestion, and one guest described the first three months of this year “as bad as ever” at the Benelux hub ports.

“One terminal out of kilter in Rotterdam can throw our entire schedule,” bemoaned a feeder operator, adding that “nobody wants to pay for extra charter hire” when the feeder ship is unable to get onto the berth.

Moreover, barge operators now deploy vessels of 200 teu or more that command substantial daily hire rates, and in today’s market of slim margins simply cannot afford to suffer constant working delays.

The promise from APMT Maasvlakte II’s managing director, Frank Tazelaar, of a “more reliable service” for barge operators, due to the design and operating concept of the facility, will be music to the ears of those embattled service providers.

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