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Published: 29 January 2008      

Eurogate poised to move into Rhine Seaports' sector?

Germany's Eurogate Group could be poised to enter the Dutch container handling market, marking its entry not only into the Netherlands ports sector, but also the Rhine Seaports.

Germany-based Eurogate group is reported to be a 50% partner with established Vlissingen (Flushing) operator Verbrugge Terminals in the 2.5M TEU/year Verbrugge Container Terminal project in East Flushing.

There is speculation in Antwerp and Rotterdam about the carrier(s) or alliance likely to be involved and the name most-frequently mentioned is MSC, even though the line's director for Belgium and the Netherlands, Maurizio Aponte, has denied any involvement in the plans. Martin Verbrugge, president and majority shareholder of Verbrugge Terminals, has confirmed to WorldCargo News his company's partnership with Eurogate, but added that no carrier or alliance is as yet "on board."

A joint team of Eurogate and Verbrugge has already discussed the plans with Hans Smits and Emile Hoogsteden, respectively the president and commercial director, container affairs and breakbulk, of the Port of Rotterdam (GHR). Zeeland Seaports (ZP) and GHR are 50:50 partners in ESM, the body responsible for marketing vacant plots in the Flushing and Terneuzen port areas.

As previously reported, ZP has given interested parties until the end of February to come up with proposals for the 48-ha site at the Quarleshaven in East Flushing, the qualifying criteria being 5 mt or 0.5M TEU handled in 2007. ZP may not like Verbrugge's ideas as it conflicts with its own long-cherished Westerschelde Container Terminal (WCT) project, to which, on the other hand, GHR is opposed.

Martin Verbrugge has told WorldCargo News that start-up of the first phase of Verbrugge Container Terminal (VCT), should it get the go-ahead, is planned for the beginning of 2011. It would comprise ≥ 800m of new quay wall, to be built on the north bank of the Quarleshaven in East Flushing. The second phase includes construction of a further 1000m of quay wall to replace the current quay wall.

Verbrugge adds that MARIN, the Dutch nautical institute, has concluded that the right dredging and other nautical adjustments can make the dock accessible for ULCCs in the 380m LOA range at a reasonable financial cost. The MARIN study was concluded last December, but has not been made public. Verbrugge added that 16m draught capesize bulk carriers already call regularly at the dock basin.

Eurogate's terminals handled around 14M TEU in 2007, but the Hamburg/Bremerhaven-based group lacks a presence in the Rhine seaports, where more than 20M TEU were handled in 2007.

Shipping circles in Antwerp and Rotterdam say they are convinced that there "must be a carrier involved as third partner." They reason that Eurogate is "in" on the explicit request of a carrier or shipping alliance, as Verbrugge has no experience in the deepsea container handling sector.

MSC, the world's second biggest container carrier, would have two big incentives to call at Flushing. First, MSC Home Terminal in Antwerp, its joint venture with PSA-HNN, is already stretched (throughput hit 3.9M TEU last year), although capacity will be raised to 4.2M TEU/year from early 2009. On top of that is the vexed question of draught on the 100-kms of the Scheldt separating Antwerp from the North Sea, as MSC prepares to deploy its first 13,000 TEU ship. Maximum ship length on the Scheldt is restricted to 350m, although a joint Belgo-Dutch authority is studying the possibility of raising the limit to 380-385m. Under one scenario, MSC is considering using Vlissingen to offload feeder containers from inbound Asia ships and then proceed to Antwerp with the advantage of much longer tidal windows as, say, 1500 containers with Scandinavia/Baltic destinations would reduce ship draught sufficiently to relax the trip to Antwerp. Outbound, the ship would then deploy the concept in reverse order, by loading ScanBalt export feeder containers (for Asia). The wayport/quick stop concept would be equally interesting for 9000 TEU ships.

MSC must be be considering its long-term position in the Rhine Seaports, given that the Second Maasvlakte concession in Rotterdam was lost to the NWA/CMA-CGM consortium. Furthermore, the long-planned Westerschelde Container Terminal (WCT) project in Vlissingen, for which PSA is ZP's preferred partner, is still in doubt. On the other hand, however, PSA is set to develop a new, deep water terminal in Zeebrugge, at the Albert II dock.

In any event, thus far ZP has played down the feasibility of VCT, but local insiders suggest that it might be more co-operative in the light of the possibility of extra harbour dues being generated by maritime feeder traffic. This might be decisive for ZP if it is to get the figures right for the navigation enhancements required to make the dock accessible for ULCCs.



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