Maasvlakte 2 five years on and filling up fast

As container ships get larger Rotterdam has to adapt to new challenges (Peter Barker)
As container ships get larger Rotterdam has to adapt to new challenges (Peter Barker)
Rotterdam was chosen for final completion of Allseas' 'Pioneering Spirit' (Peter Barker)
Activity is picking up at Sif Group's facility at Maasvlakte 2 (Peter Barker)
Activity is picking up at Sif Group's facility at Maasvlakte 2 (Peter Barker)
70ha are being reclaimed for Offshore Centre Rotterdam (Peter Barker)
70ha are being reclaimed for Offshore Centre Rotterdam (Peter Barker)

As Rotterdam’s Maasvlakte 2 transitions from empty desert lands to working sites, the port continues to ensure that as landlord it provides what the tenant is looking for, Peter Barker investigates.

MJ has followed progress at Rotterdam’s €2.9bn Maasvlakte 2 port extension project since 2009. As it celebrates five years since the official opening and with 464ha of the available 770ha now rented out a look at progress reveals this is but one milestone in what will clearly be a long-running story.

Port of Rotterdam Authority (PRA) is keeping up the momentum of growth (across the whole port estate) and while best known as a major transhipment hub, blessed with natural access to Europe's hinterland, it is expanding in a sector hitherto not of dominance, the offshore industry, expansion that will be assisted by clusters of engineering and associated industries in the region.

Where to begin? Rotterdam’s traditional areas of activity continue to develop. APMT and RWG’s ultra-modern container terminals at Maasvlakte 2 are now firmly established and while quarterly cargo statistics across all sectors indicate fluctuations, PRA’s plans are aimed at ensuring it can deliver whatever trends demand.

The most interesting recent development is expansion in the offshore sector. One could perhaps ask, was selection of Rotterdam as ‘home port’ for the giant decommissioning/pipelaying vessel Pioneering Spirit the catalyst?

Part of Prinses Alexiahaven (Pioneering Spirit’s parking bay) is being developed to become Offshore Centre Rotterdam (OCR) with offshore wind, decommissioning, and oil and gas industries target sectors. The remaining 30ha of an eventual 70ha earmarked for OCR is now being reclaimed with construction of the first 600m of a 1,000m heavy-load quay soon to commence. The site is due to be ready for occupation by around the end of 2019 placing Rotterdam in a strong position in this increasingly active sector.

Activity in the hitherto largely unexploited offshore wind sector is now evident at Sif Group’s foundation assembly facility at Maasvlakte 2. The company is adapting to naturally occurring gaps in demand but an unscientific snapshot of activity at the time of writing indicates a particularly busy facility with around 40 transition pieces and upwards of 120 various mono and pin-type piles awaiting load out.

Just as Aberdeen is securing its future by establishing industry roots that will hopefully endure long after North Sea oil and gas (eventually) becomes a thing of the past, the likes of Sif Group could find itself in a strong position as offshore wind expands into global arenas currently unexploited compared to within Europe. Here no doubt, is another long-running story and PRA clearly see this as an area of growth suiting the profile of OCR.

A sector experiencing consistent growth is containers, the first quarter of 2018 seeing a 6.1% increase (in TEUs) over the same period in 2017. With the two new terminals now established, Maasvlakte 2 is once again well-placed for future growth. APMT and RWG currently occupy only part of their potential quay length and shoreside area while the nearby long-established Euromax Terminal also has potential for expansion thanks to the layout of this new corner of the Rotterdam port estate. Perhaps it is a case of when rather than if these key players announce expansion either in area or additional equipment.

Growth brings challenges however. As container ships get larger carrying greater volumes but demanding the same handling efficiencies, the whole dynamics of the supporting infrastructure must adapt. As ships get bigger and more boxes arrive per call so demands on loading, unloading and transhipping potentially pile up.

Planners are working to ensure the infrastructure is up to the task including developments perhaps otherwise of little significance and not attracting widespread attention or appreciation of how important detail is in a big picture.

One challenge for container hubs such as Rotterdam is ensuring the smooth transfer of boxes between terminals for onward shipment via other modes including: feeder, rail, barge and road. This challenge becomes evident driving around the Maasvlakteweg perimeter road (and other main routes) where traffic is dominated by container freight, some off to their eventual destination inland, others making the short journey to nearby road, rail, barge or feeder terminals for further transhipment.

Work is now underway on the Container Exchange Route, a dedicated roadway in effect running parallel to existing public roads and linking the five container terminals of Maasvlakte (1) and Maasvlakte 2, allowing the bundling of containers using Multi Trailer Systems resulting in trains, barges and feeders no longer having to call at all terminals individually. It includes dedicated logistics arrangements and IT systems (including for handling empty containers) aimed at greater efficiencies, not to mention easing the ever-increasing traffic on public roads.

An essential part of container terminals are shoreside logistics parks providing storage, distribution, and value-added services. Rotterdam has a number of these, known as Distriparks and to accommodate growth a new one, Distripark Maasvlakte West is planned on a currently empty triangle of land adjacent to APMT and RWG terminals. Construction is well underway on a complex viaduct to provide access to the new 100ha park and RWG without compromising the already busy road and rail network. Similar junctions are planned as OCR develops.

Another development is already complete following opening of the State Inspection Terminal at Maasvlakte. This facility sees government state inspection services including: Dutch Customs; the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority brought under one roof at a ‘one-stop-shop’ easing inevitable delays from these very necessary interruptions in the general cargo flow.

Final development to mention is the announcement that the recently opened Maasvlakte Plaza truck stop is to be expanded, increasing the number of parking bays for freight vehicles from 350 to 500.

Rotterdam is more than just the Maasvlaktes of course and as with most ports that started life centuries ago far inland, gradually migrating to the coast (and beyond) the estate upstream from Hook van Holland is experiencing continued growth and presenting challenges as ships get bigger.

Work is underway to deepen the Nieuwe Waterweg over a length of 25km to accommodate larger ships and provide access to the Botlek area for vessels with a draught of 15m. The aim is to improve the competitive position of companies in the area as visiting ships get bigger. The deepening will allow New-Panamax and Aframax ships to navigate the Nieuwe Waterweg without restrictions.

Boskalis Westminster NV are dredging from Maasluis to the Benelux Tunnel including the Botlek and Van der Kamp BV the stretch between Maasluis and Hook van Holland. Overall responsibility for deepening the Nieuwe Waterweg is with Rijkswaterstaat and PRA for the Botlek. The deepened channel will allow access for three vessels per tide rather than the present one per tide.

The amount of dredging varies depending on existing water depths but will see a depth increase of around 2m. The area upstream has to be dredged deeper as the salt water content reduces meaning ships sit lower in the water.

An associated factor is the knock-on effect of the critical point where salt water transitions to fresh water flowing downstream. The Nieuwe Maas region is an important source of fresh water supplies and measures are being put in place to ease the impact of the deepening on that transition point for local water providers.

The above is but a snapshot of just one year's news at the world’s ninth largest port which covers 5,250ha of harbours and a similar area of land over a distance of more than 40km, handling 467m tonnes of cargo from just under 30,000 seagoing and 105,000 inland vessels in 2016.

PRA recognises its responsibilities to the environment, encouraging energy reduction measures and exploring biodiversity and habitat options for organisms, helping fish stocks and water quality in the area.

Of note is the Green Gateway project where dredged material is used to establish parallel dams along a 5km stretch of the Nieuwe Waterweg improving wildlife habitability. Another initiative involves bio-huts placed in the Calandkanaal creating artificial habitats for juvenile fish.

Finally, 16 tide pools are being constructed along the Calandkanaal with water retained longer during low tides creating mini-ecosystems natural in coastal rocky zones but largely absent in modern ports. The port of Rotterdam has historically enjoyed generally healthy support from local communities and such measure will no doubt be important in maintaining that situation.

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