City life in Rotterdam

In-Depth

While Rotterdam’s Maasvlakte terminals traditionally attract most of the limelight, the ‘City’ port complex near the town centre is no less ambitious.

In the area 35km upriver from the harbour mouth, cargo is handled at around 20 different piers. Two of the biggest players in this area are Rotterdam Shortsea Terminals (RST) and Steinweg. Both are rolling out extensive terminal upgrades.

RST operates on a 46-hectare site and has a staff of around 330. It handles 20 shipping line customers with connections to about 70 ports in the European shortsea range, stretching from the Baltic States, Scandinavia, Iceland, the British Isles and Western Europe to North Africa. The terminal has 2,800m of quay wall, with a depth alongside of 13.65m at most berths. It handles over fifty ocean-going vessels per week, and about 6,000 barges annually.

Throughput was 1.2m TEU in 2023, which is down about 18% on pre-covid volumes. Around 10-12% of the drop is attributable to the decline in traffic to the Ukraine.

Hybrids and HVO100

In April this year, RTS took delivery of six Kalmar HSC 1-over-3 hybrid straddle carriers. “As this delivery included Kalmar’s 600th hybrid straddle, a vendor/terminal celebrative do is being planned”, RST’s CEO Arno Storm said in an interview with WorldCargo News. The new machines will replace six older units that will be sold or scrapped.At the same time, the terminal is switching to HVO100 fuel for its terminal equipment.

“Because our fuel-efficient new machines will use HVO100, this will, from now on, also be used to fuel our reach stackers, other terminal handling equipment and the other strads so that we avoid having to use two different fuel tanks,” Storm noted.

The €8m strad investment is the precursor to a bigger programme, currently estimated at €60m, featuring one new RMG, two STS-gantry cranes and another six hybrid strads as the main components of a six-point programme. RST is tendering for the RMG now.

“We have a request for quotation pending with six RMG vendors and plan to order by late 2024, expectantly aiming for a two-year lead time,” Strom said.

For the two additional STS cranes, RST will consider “young” pre-owned units. They must have an outreach of approximately 53m, 16m backreach, 20m railspan and a 50 to 60-tonne capacity, and include a spreader.

Bigger ships

“We are seeing a scaling-up of the intra-European shortsea ships of up to 2,000 TEU,” Strom said. Two new STS cranes will take the current complement from three to five units. In addition, RST completely overhauled one of the older jib-cranes on the North Quay and repositioned it to the far end of the South Quay to function as an additional STS-crane.

RST’s entire south side and part of the north side at the Eemhaven basin / Photo: RST

The company plans to order six more hybrid or electric straddles to serve the two new STS cranes, which will take the straddle fleet to 18 machines.  Eventually, the remaining 6 diesel-powered strads will be replaced by hybrid/electric machines. This is scheduled to be completed by late 2028, along with the rest of the programme.

Other aspects involve the repositioning of two RMG tracks; repositioning one of the 11 widespan quayside gantry cranes; and heightening three other widespan cranes.

Widespan operations

The bulk of RST’s business is handled via its 11 widespan cranes. These have a short boom but, to be clear, they are not the same as the STS cranes referred to above. The widespan cranes stack 13 rows of export boxes in the railspan between their legs.

Import boxes are taken to the backreach and loaded onto special rail-mounted platforms called “multitainer flats” that can load 18 TEU (three 40ft boxes stacked three wide and three high).

The loaded multitainer flats are shifted over a modest gradient towards the RMGs. A single lane between the widespan crane landside rail and the multitainer blocks serves to handle export boxes from road trucks.

Driving higher productivity

RST was acquired from Steinweg by Blue Ocean Capital and Crestline Investors in April 2021. Storm joined RST in August 2023 after nine years with APMT in Bahrain and Rotterdam. He is overseeing a business plan that started in 2021 and will take nearly 10 years to complete.

The executive emphasised that, while the big-ticket items must be backed by a sound business plan, the owners are clearly willing to invest in RST. “They are truly fuelling our development,” he said.

At the same time, RST is following a path of continuous improvement through transparency, progressing and innovating together with its partners. Storm attributes this approach to having increased productivity by 15% over the last 18 months.

“We’re now doing an average of 23 berth moves per hour, and we have many ideas about making further steps here. This requires a dialogue with the carriers whom, I believe, are somewhat less used to such stevedore initiatives than deepsea carriers,” he said.

On the landside, RST handles some 1,000 trucks per weekday. It is a partner in the City Terminal cluster that, together with the Port of Rotterdam and Certus Automation, has developed a fully automated gate system for the Rail Service Centre. All incoming truck and rail containers are notified in Portbase’s Port Community System.

“Counting from the automated driver check and container scan, a truck’s terminal turnaround has been halved to an average 45 minutes tops,” Storm enthuses.

RST introduced shore power jointly with Samskip mid 2023 and is moving ahead with a number of other sustainability initiatives.

“We are the first Dutch container terminal to offer shore power and are discussing this with some other carriers. As a single high-voltage connection costs somewhere between one and two million euros, we are considering to join Rotterdam Shore Power, a joint venture between the Port of Rotterdam and Eneco, although other investment routes are also being considered,” Storm said.

SustainabilityHydrogen is also on the agenda. RST has joined the Condor project as a possible swap point for the hydrogen tank containers for inland barges that are scheduled to be stationed along the Rhine from Rotterdam to Basle. RST is also involved in a feasibility project with STC, Hyster and Adsensys for a hydrogen learning lab.

This includes an electrolyser mounted in a 40ft container and a hydrogen-powered reach stacker. RST has applied for funding from the Dutch state and the EU to support the project’s hydrogen-operated reach stacker.

“The smaller scalable electrolyser might also produce part of the hydrogen for the filling station for barges and trucks that we are looking at further down the line. No hydrogen pipeline from the upcoming Maasvlakte electrolysers is scheduled to run past our site yet, although the developments are still continuing on that topic,” Storm said.

RST launched its sustainability reporting and strategy in 2022. It currently uses green electricity for 50% of its total consumption thanks to a 15% share of a solar farm through a corporate power purchase agreement (CPPA) and solar panels on two buildings.

“Whereas 50% of our electricity is already green today, we aim to go to 100% by the end of 2025 in accordance with scopes 1 and 2 of the GHG Protocol. RST aspires to be fully carbon neutral by 2030 in line with GHG scope 3”, Storm concluded.

Steinweg’s plans

Virtually across the street from the gates of RST’s facility, Steinweg is also working hard. The global general cargo terminal operator, boasting over 100 locations in more than 55 countries with almost 6,300 employees, is fully engaged with redeveloping its Waalhaven Pier 6 site. The terminal is the centrepiece in a scheme to divest four smaller terminals with limited logistical value, all but one located in Rotterdam, in favour of one larger, powerful hub.

Following this upscaling, Steinweg now has nine locations left in Rotterdam with an aggregate of 1.7 million square meters, much of which is open space. Pier 6 on the Waalhaven basin is the focal point of an operation that includes the adjacent Piers 5 and 7. It sits back-to-back on one pier with Pier 5 to its north, which is occupied by both Steinweg and breakbulk stevedores Metaaltransport, a separate non-aligned company (see illustration).

“Actually Pier 6 and our adjacent site on the former Pier 5 operate as one single terminal”, Steinweg’s Operational Director Milko Oldenburg, COO for all of the Netherlands-based facilities, told WorldCargo News.

“To be more precise, when we speak of the Pier 6 project or the hub, we actually refer to Piers 5, 6 and 7 together as one integral 46-hectare logistical operation.”

Going electric

Pursuing its ESG targets, and eager to reduce its ecological footprint, Steinweg has invested in new equipment including 121 Linde electric forklift trucks in the sub 8-tonne range, including E30 type machines that will all be delivered by the end of 2024 and will replace diesel machines. These are not the first electric machines Steinweg operates in Rotterdam and the operator is now considering higher capacity electric equipment.

“What will happen with the diesel-powered reach stackers and the lift trucks over 8 tonnes is to be determined in a later stage of our replacement-investment plan,” Oldenburg said. “When the sub-8-tonne replacement scheme will be completed, our total number of lift trucks across Rotterdam will remain at about 350 units.”

Steinweg needs such a large number of machines due to its well-known position in the market for handling and storing non-ferrous and ferrous metals. All of its terminals are London Metal Exchange accredited facilities.

Solar power

On the quayside, Steinweg has plans to convert cranes to electricity and install solar power. The south side of Pier 6 has four Gottwald mobile harbour cranes, while on the other side of the pier, Steinweg operates two rail mounted harbour cranes with a 20m rail gauge (previously used for bulk handling at Immingham in the UK) and two smaller mobile harbour cranes, which were transferred from Steinweg’s Hartel Terminal on Maasvlakte I.

“Wherever the quayside rail tracks and operations will allow this, we plan to convert the diesel-electric harbour cranes to full electric. Furthermore, we plan to install solar panels on the roofs of the new Pier 6 warehouses,” Oldenburg said.

The generation potential is significant as the two warehouses have a combined area of 26,420 square meters. Optimising workflowsAs stated, the Pier 6 project involves the conversion of Piers 5, 6 and 7 together, into one single large terminal that serves as a central hub for Steinweg’s broad logistical service offering. Oldenburg stressed efficient terminal design is as important as economies of scale.

The core of Steinweg’s Pier 6 terminal project at the Waalhaven. Pier No. 6 is on the right. ‘Housemate’ Metaaltransport’s warehouses are bottom left. The photo looks east, towards the Rotterdam town centre / Photo: Steinweg

“We are seeking this through thoughtful terminal design aimed at optimising logistical workflows. We have carefully designed every aspect of the terminal to maximise efficiency. This has led to strategically placed loading and unloading zones, optimised storage space, and infrastructure supported by smart planning and investments in advanced technologies.”

The Pier 6 revamp has produced a blueprint that Steinweg intends to deploy at other locations elsewhere in Rotterdam.

“We aim for uniformity, and it is our goal to create a model that can also be applied elsewhere, such as in the Botlek and Beatrixhaven,” added Oldenburg. The blueprint includes both the physical aspects and the business processes and systems. “The way of working and the sustainable approach must serve as an example for other locations in the future,” he said.

Pier 7

Elsewhere in Rotterdam, Steinweg is involved in another overhaul at Pier 7. That was set in motion after the closure of Uniport, the last deepsea container terminal that remained in the Rotterdam City port area. Located on Waalhaven Pier 7, it was launched in 1968 as Unitcentre by Pakhoed.

Subsequent owners were Kühne & Nagel, local entrepreneur Hans Vervat, and finally Steinweg. Since 2021, Pier 7 has partially been leased to the container depot group UWT (United Waalhaven Terminals).

This is a short-term arrangement and UWT will vacate the site during the course of 2024.Pier 7 is now increasingly being used by Steinweg for open-air storage of parts and equipment for cranes, offshore wind and energy transition in general.

This includes two rail-mounted luffing cranes Steinweg acquired from Broekman’s all-weather terminal in the Botlek area, ahead of its sale to Cobelfret. These will be renovated and moved to Pier 6 at some point in 2025.

At the same time, two of the Gottwald mobile harbour cranes currently at Pier 6 will be relocated to Pier 7. Oldenburg concluded that the entire Rotterdam port-wide consolidation and Pier 6 renovation operation is now between 70% to 80% complete.

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