The iconic Liver Building at Liverpool’s Pier Head was the venue for the 2023 Coastlink Conference, reports Howard Knott.
The Building overlooks not just the Mersey Ferries and the Liverpool Cruise Terminals, but also the outdoor stage for a number of events supporting the Eurovision Song Contest taking place in a nearby arena.
The Conference was hosted by main sponsor, Peel Ports with several supporting sponsors including the Port of Antwerp Bruges and the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. The one hundred plus delegates, mainly from European coastal states, heard a series of presentations and discussions around the topics of Short Sea Shipping, Growing Sustainable Supply Chains, and Intermodal Freight Networks.
Along with participating in the discussions I took the opportunity to speak with several the delegates, particularly those with a clear Irish interest. My own platform contribution came within the discussion “Post-Brexit & Post Pandemic: Are we where we need to be?”. The other members of this panel were Doug Bannister, CEO of Port of Dover, Amaia Sarasola, Market & Commercial Manager. Port of Bilbao Authority, and Sean Potter, who is currently Commercial Director, BU Forest and Metals, at DFDS A/S. It became clear that the Post-Brexit and Post-Covid worlds had not yet settled down and that within British manufacturing and trading there remained great uncertainty as to the final shape of Brexit. There had been much discussion in the room around the hoped for. “BINO” which is “Brexit In Name Only” which might allow the restoration of some business and public easements.
Talking with Sean Potter about its Dunkirk/Rosslare service, he confirmed that the company was very happy with the traffic volumes on a service that had settled down to a five times weekly rotation with two similar vessels. Increased competition from the Finnlines, Zeebrugge /Rosslare service had not affected the development of the DFDS service. A key factor with this service, as with its six times weekly Sheerness/Calais operation, is the substantial volumes of DFDS controlled door to door trailer traffic carried on the vessels. DFDS has now re-branded its HSF Logistics trailer, warehouse and cold chain activity to being DFDS Cold Chain Logistics. The recently acquired Lucey Transport and McBurney Transport have been integrated into this Europewide operation. Potter expects to see significant further development in Ireland as the company becomes a major player in the food and pharma businesses. During his presentation Potter spoke about the key role that clever IT plays in operating effective freight supply chains and about the Brexit imperative of growing a significant Customs and other Border Control expertise to support customers. Currently DFDS employs about 200 tech people in these areas, while pre-Brexit the figure was closer to twenty.
Speaking with Robert Clegg, the UK Short Sea Director for Containerships, his message was like Sean Potter’s. Containerships is now the European Short Sea container shipping arm of the CMA CGM Group and has a dual role of acting as a feeder service provider for the CMA CGM deep sea services linking them to a range of ports along the Atlantic periphery of Europe and operating as a door-to-door inter-European service provider for more local traffic. This combination of activities enables the company to operate services with very little reliance on other quay to quay traffic and a built-in security regarding traffic volumes.
By coincidence, on the day on which we spoke, Containerships had further extended its Irish reach with the first weekly call of Robert’s home port of Belfast. The Containerships operation is likely to be further enhanced using capacity on Brittany Ferries services to carry ISO containers and by the rapid expansion of CMA CGM’s freight forwarding activity following several business takeovers and particularly that of Bollore Logistics.
The business model presented by David Browne, General Manager at Maersk UK was broadly like the DFDS and CMA group models. The company’s mantra is that “We can and must decarbonize logistics”. To do this the company would operate providing a complete supply chain package for clients. Here, Maersk would not only handle the cargo using its own and its approved subcontractors in physically delivering the goods but would also handle all aspects of the paperwork and border controls. The fact that Maersk operates a significant number of Port Terminals, and an increasing number of rail services means that the risks of any delays and demurrage charges are minimized.
The company is currently completing fitting out of several carbon neutral warehouses in Ireland, Britain, and the Netherlands. In April this year they launched its first feeder vessel that will be fuelled by green methanol. This 2100 TEU vessel will commence service in September, most probably on inter-Scandinavian routes. This vessel will consume 10,000 tonnes of fuel a year and currently this is the total volume of green methanol that could be made available. By 2024 another 12 similar vessels will come into service and these will be followed by a series of 16,000 TEU vessels with similar propulsion. Maersk hopes that by the time these Deep-Sea vessels are ready to come into service the bugs will have been taken out of use of this fuel and that further significant supplies will be available, in that case, in Asia from where that fleet will operate.
Maersk has also established the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Centre for zero carbon shipping to act as an independent research centre to examine all aspects of shipping and how the company’s ambition of being net zero carbon by 2040 can be achieved. This Centre’s research findings will be made available industry wide in pursuit of the decarbonization goals. Currently 56% of emissions are from the Company’s own fleet but the target is to, by 2030, reduce emissions on a per container basis by 50% against the 2025 figure.
The company reckons that biofuel will never be available in sufficient quantities to become a real contender for maritime fuels, that ammonia will take another ten years to be ready for large scale introduction while the introduction of hydrogen will be a further 10 years delayed. There have been concerns about the extra costs that use of these fuels will bring to the supply chain by Maersk reckon that, for example, it will add 50c. to the price of a flat-screen TV.
David Browne also observed that current demand for biofuel from the European road transport sector is running significantly below the availability of this fuel.
Stephen Carr, Group Commercial Director at the Peel Ports Group, in addition to his duties in hosting the Conference, spoke to the theme of “What mode of Transport uses Ports”. He opened by saying that, in the case of Peel Ports, some 12% of the cargo arriving onto the quayside leaves Liverpool by vessel, while 25% of the cargo travels 30 miles or less from the port and within 60 miles the percentage is 62%. During a tour of the port following the Conference, Stephen Carr pointed out the developing rail connections within the Port which taken with established rail terminals at Garston and elsewhere, provide a network of container and bulk cargo rail services to major population in the midlands and further north.
His talk focused very strongly on the aging haulage driver workforce and the need to use this resource more effectively. The greater use of rail for longer distance deliveries makes sense when considering that a driver rostered for deliveries and collections within 60 miles of the Port can do ten to fifteen jobs a week, while one that is rostered by 200 mile journeys can only achieve four round trips a week. He wondered if there was merit in establishing a truck driving apprentice programme that would allow the trainees to gain experience working within terminals and off the public road. He also made the point that had been made to the event by several other contributors that public policy should ensure that ports are located close to where significant numbers of people live and work.
Postscript: The Liverpool Maritime Museum is located close to the Pier Head. One of the vessels in their collection is the masted auxiliary schooner “De Wadden” which is currently located in a dry dock close to the Museum buildings. This Dutch built vessel was sold, in the early 1920’s to the Arklow based, Richard Hall, and joined a fleet of similar vessels operated on the Irish Sea by several local owners.
By the 1960’s most of the vessels, including the “De Wadden” had ceased to trade. The vessel then passed through the hands of several owners before being purchased by the Liverpool Maritime Museum in 1984. She was located in her current drydock three years later as an exhibit demonstrating the type and size of vessel that served small ports on the Irish Sea coasts over the previous century.
On the third of May this year the Liverpool Maritime Museum confirmed their intention to scrap the vessel later in 2023.