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Shipping - Special Report: North Europe ports tapped as best gateways for Asia cargo - by Bruce Barnard

The Port of Rotterdam
Europe’s northern gateway ports will remain a better option than their Mediterranean rivals for shippers transporting containers to and from Asia as environmental factors come more into play, according to a report.
Transporting containers across most of Europe from northern ports is currently cheaper and more sustainable than via southern ports such as Koper, Genoa and Constanta despite their shorter transit times to Asia, Panteia, a consultancy said.

The northern ports will become even more competitive as Europe seeks to reduce the environmental impact of supply chains, according to the report commissioned by the Rotterdam Port Authority and Deltalinqs, a Dutch industry association.

“The Northern European ports perform well because many large container vessels call here and much of the hinterland transport is done by inland shipping and rail. This provides for a relatively small ecological footprint” said Allard Castelein, chief executive officer of the Rotterdam Port Authority.

“The report also shows that further improvement is possible, especially by using LNG (liquefied natural gas) as a transport fuel and making logistics more efficient through IT. These are two important challenges for the coming years.”

Mega-ships with capacities of up to 20,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units, which have much lower carbon dioxide emissions per container than 10,000 TEU ships, call more frequently at northern hubs than at the smaller southern European ports “because more goods are shipped to and from this densely populated region.”

The report concludes that imposing a Sulphur Emission Control Area, currently restricted to the North Sea, the English Channel and the Baltic Sea, to the Mediterranean will not impact the market share of European ports.

The major shippers and logistics firms interviewed by Panteia said price was the most important factor in choosing ports followed by service and reliability, with sustainability not seen as an important criterion.
“Sustainability is a deal maker, but not a deal breaker, yet,” the Rotterdam Port Authority said.
The Panteia report contrasts with the findings of a recent study by Drewry Supply Chain Advisors that said the traditional gateway ports in Northwest Europe no longer hold all of the trump cards on the Asian container trades.  

The cheapest option to ship a container from China to southern Germany was via Rotterdam and Hamburg, but only by a margin of $150 and $100, respectively, against Koper in Slovenia, which has a three-day transit time advantage.

“As such we believe Shanghai-to-Munich via Koper is a true Best-Route contender for shippers with time sensitive cargoes,” Drewry said.

Southern European ports will also become more attractive as freight rates to the Mediterranean, which have traditionally been higher than those to northern Europe, have recently become cheaper than those on the longer haul.

South European intermodal operators are also developing “exciting and competitive” concepts that will be boosted when the trans-Alpine Gotthard rail tunnel opens in June.

“More shippers will look to route via southern gateway ports as the maritime price differential equalizes and intermodal connectivity improves,” Drewry said.

While Rotterdam, Europe’s top container hub, is bullish about its ability to see off the challenge from upcoming southern European ports, other northern gateways are less confident of maintaining their market share.

Antwerp recently urged Rotterdam, its closest rival, to join forces to meet the challenge of China’s growing investment in the southern European waterfront that could lure container traffic from the Le Havre-Hamburg range.

The two ports could build joint storage facilities for Asian cargo bound for central and Eastern Europe, the Belgian port’s CEO Eddy Bruyninckx suggested. “We each play our part, but it would be wise to join forces to ship goods to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary,” he told Dutch newspaper Financieelle Dagblad.
“China wants to lessen its dependence on northern European ports,” Frans Paul van der Pullen, an analyst at the Clingendeal Institute, told the paper.

“China will eventually be able to ship products to central Europe more quickly via southern ports than through Rotterdam or Antwerp.”

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