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Rotterdam is prepared for a messy Brexit

The port will have two contingency parking lots ready to accommodate trucks that do not meet UK customs requirements in the event of a "no deal" Brexit

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At 469 Mt the port of Rotterdam’s total throughput volume ended up slightly higher in 2018 than in 2017, which was itself a record year (467.4 Mt).


Container transhipment was the engine of growth again, with a 4.5% increase in tonnage to 150 Mt and a 5.7% increase in units to 14.5M TEU, also a record. Throughput of crude oil, mineral oil products and agribulk fell. Throughput of LNG (+163.6%) to 5.2 Mt and biomass (+31.6%) saw further spectacular rises last year.


The truck parking lots will be on the north and south banks of the Maas, each with space for 100 trucks. Dutch customs as well as veterinary and phytosanitary agencies will be stationed on these temporary sites, said Allard Castelein, CEO of the Rotterdam port authority (HbR) at port’s annual results conference.

The parking lots will provide a buffer for accompanied trucks moving by ro-ro to the UK
The parking lots will provide a buffer for accompanied trucks moving by ro-ro to the UK

Trucks using the contingency facilities should resolve their documentation issues within 24 hours and subsequently proceed to their UK-bound ferries. Castelein agreed that a buffer of 200 trucks might seem modest, considering the five ro-ro terminals in Rotterdam, which themselves have no space for ‘long stay’ trucks.


He noted that there are several more lots that can be developed in the vast Rotterdam port area and used for overflow parking, although they may not get customs and other agencies on site.


As a further precaution to cope with a no-deal Brexit, Portbase - Rotterdam’s service bureau for shipping documentation-related EDI - has spent € 1.5M on building tools for the ro-ro sector. In this market segment virtually all trucking firms and many exporters have no experience in dealing with non-EU countries. Other measures include the hiring and training of 300 additional customs officers and 90 veterinarians.


“Under the motto ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,’ we’ve done everything we could and have been anticipating a possible hard Brexit for two years already," said Castelein. "This included all-stakeholder simulation sessions that featured a wide range of possible models, but there will be tailbacks and congestion."


For this, both Rotterdam and regional and provincial authorities have scenarios in place to mitigate the effects on the port’s road network.


Castelein added that he was sorry that, given the centralised Brussels-London negotiations, one-on-one dialogues with UK authorities and ports were barred, leaving everybody in the dark about the procedures and measures on either side of the North Sea.

Rotterdam  accounts for 60% of the 2016-18 container traffic increase in the Le Havre-Hamburg range
Rotterdam accounts for 60% of the 2016-18 container traffic increase in the Le Havre-Hamburg range

Asked to address the recent decision by British chemicals group Ineos to build two new factories in Antwerp, Rotterdam’s port boss strongly rejected press suggestions that the government of Flanders might have provided hidden, non-Brussels proof incentives to tilt the playing field.


The playing field, he said, is tilted visibly by the fact that the Ineos plants would have had to pay an annual €10M to €12M on real estate taxes on the Maasvlakte, or elsewhere in the Netherlands, against nil in Belgium.


“I’m engaged in discussions with Dutch government officials to bring about better corporate settlement conditions. As a country we are dealing with potential new industrial settlements too lightly and we are too relaxed about it,”he grumbled, making references also to the offshore wind energy sector.


Castelein was more upbeat about the progress made in the ambitions Porthos project (Port of Rotterdam CO2 Transport Hub and Storage). Energy transition is one of the port’s spearheads. “The many companies involved are co-operating and have started engineering studies on how to make it work. Later this year, we’ll have a clearer overall picture of the respective steps to be taken.


A non-technical hurdle is the pricing of CO2 emitted. Currently this is around €20 per tonne, whereas the Porthos solution is now estimated at a cost price of around €60 per tonne, leaving a €40 gap to be bridged.”


He added that the depleted Dutch North Sea offshore fields earmarked for the carbon storage have such abundant capacity that the Rotterdam project could also easily cater for the carbon disposal needs of the German federal state of North Rhine Westphalia and that of Antwerp, in addition to what might be generated elsewhere in the Netherlands. Such third party business could further the business case, which is estimated to have a €400M to €500M price tag. Castelein anticipates that the first CO2 could be pumped offshore in 2022 or 2023.


Looking at the general cargo sector, he noted that containers now represent 32% of Rotterdam’s total figure, with liquid bulk still leading with a 45% share. He stated that Rotterdam has landed 60% of the 3.4M TEU total growth in the Hamburg-Le Havre in the three years between 2016 and 2018.

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