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Wim Dillen, Port of Antwerp

Huge global growth in refrigerated containers, but we will still continue to defend conventional shipping methods

In 2013, 191 million tons of transported goods were handled in the port of Antwerp. "This year we are expecting close to 200 million," says Senior Business Development Manager, Wim Dillen. "This makes the port in Antwerp the second largest in Europe. We are still the European leader and we plan to stay that way. Due to our export generating character, ships are also able to take shipments back with them when they leave the port. That makes us attractive."

Wim Dillen sees growth in the refrigerated container segment. According to Dillen, the most important reason for this growth has to do with a new plan they created three years ago. "We were not satisfied with the volumes of the containers, so we decided to do something about it. Together with various private companies in our port we set up an expertise group. Since then the group has grown to 30 members. Our goal is to increase the market share in the container segment. Therefore, we have to make our offer more attractive." He is very pleased with the group. "Every three months a new participant joins, and together we look over the situation through the view from a helicopter." 

Three important issues

In the last few years they have worked on three important things with the expert group. "First we noticed that there was a need for more 'first port of calls'. Ships saw Antwerp not as the first port of call, but often the last. As a result we have missed out on a lot, especially in fresh produce containers. We have worked on this through targeted actions in five countries in order to establish where many perishables were coming from: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and South Africa. We have already achieved several successes: in six months three new services from different countries have taken up Antwerp as their first port of call. We expect to achieve even more in the near future. "


Another point that is covered in the group is the service that Antwerp provides. "People had the perception that we were slow and inefficient with regards to controls at customs and food agencies in our port. Therefore, we decided to integrate these two issues as much as possible. Checks are happening now at the same time, in one location. From the time the container is removed from the ship, we can deliver the contents within a radius of 500 kilometres in 24 hours (that is, if everything is normal with that shipment)." Wim admitted that for a few years they were less clear about where they stood as a company, and what direction they wanted to go in. "That was the third aspect that needed to be addressed. In particular, we knew too little about the containers and too little about the volumes. We now see that the container volumes have increased, in the last three years, from 420,000 TEUs to 520,000 TEUs. That is proof that we can be of interest now. If you all pull together on the same sails, there will be movement. "


Containers for long distance

He indicates that the "shipping to far off destinations" of the perishable flows is done for various reasons. "There has been a shift, from a push system to a pull system. Retailers want to gain more and more control over the entire supply chain. They can have relatively strong control over this through the use of their volumes. On top of this, there is very little being invested in conventional transport, but there is a lot being invested in containers. Containers are also more appropriate for that kind of logistics. "


Antwerp is still known as a conventional port. "Last year we handled 1.3 million tons of conventional transport. We are still the largest conventional fruit port in Europe. Especially in bananas, but also in pineapples and apples." According to Wim, there is little difference in the price of freight and conventional containers. The biggest advantage lies in the direct services possible which creates reduced transit times. "We have decided to continue to defend conventional transport, because it certainly has a right to exist."

Antwerp in numbers

Last year the port in Antwerp handled 520,000 TEUs from refrigerated containers (or more than 5.5 million tons), conventional was 1.3 million tons. This brings us close to 7 million tons of perishable cargo. Of these shipments, about 75% were fruits and vegetables. So we are not a small port. Moreover, we also have export areas to offer. For companies that wish to not only import but also export as well, that certainly can be interesting. In this way containers can be better utilized. "


The competition has become fiercer. "If you look at total trade in Europe, there is very little growth. These volumes should thus be spread over all seaports, and the only way to expand your 'piece of cake' is at the expense of another's market share. If you recognize this, the fight becomes even harder, probably. Technically, the various European ports could handle much more capacity. Before the crisis, many people invested. We also could have handled 14 million TEUs. "According to Dillen, ports generally have a broader objective than companies, and they see things from a different perspective. "For companies, the refrigerated container business is particularly interesting. For a port it does not really matter what kind of container it is."

Even more attractive

Antwerp's port has become even more attractive due to the tremendous increase in the cost of inspection at the VWA in the Netherlands. "Many Dutch importers have a certain chauvinism and opt for their own nation, even though we are in Europe. But they also look very carefully at the cost, so that helps us out. Besides the fact that we are cheaper, we are also fast. We see that more and more Dutch importers are looking at Antwerp again, and are actually sending their products here. "


Wim is quite positive when it comes to the future. "We realize that there is fierce competition between the ports, but think we have enough assets to safeguard and improve our position. There is certainly potential for growth in the three important issues we are tackling. Not only for the fruit and vegetable sector, but also in other areas." Another goal is to strengthen the focus on different exporting countries. "Despite the stories, we see that Europe is still an important destination for fruit. Of course, Latin America and South Africa are also looking at other markets, that makes sense. But the volumes being sent here will definitely continue. The fact is, people will continue to need fruits and vegetables." According to Wim, Russia does not cause a problem. "Unfortunately, I see such conflicts only increasing in the future. It is therefore difficult to predict what will happen."

He sees potential in Africa. "They have the climate and the products, but the infrastructure is not there yet. That is a huge challenge, and that is why we want to contribute. Together with APEC, the training arm of the Port of Antwerp, we have a "Cold Chain Logistics" seminar for port professionals around the world. The first edition of this seminar will be held next June in Belgium, and lasts two weeks. During training, every aspect of the supply chain is discussed by specialists in the field. All sides are exposed, from grower to retailer. "

For more information:
Wim Dillen
Port of Antwerp
Havenhuis, Entrepotkaai 1,
2000 Antwerpen, Belgiƫ
T +32 3 229 65 92
[email protected]
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