With a capacity of 21,413 TEU, the six G-class vessels of OOCL are currently the largest in the world. In Rotterdam, the ships are unloaded and loaded at the Hutchison Ports ECT Euromax terminal. In close consultation with the shipping line, handling is a streamlined process here. The preparations for each call already start weeks before arrival.
The handling of Ultra Large Container Ships (ULCSs) is a common occurrence at the ECT Euromax. Coming from the North Sea, it is the first container terminal in the port of Rotterdam. This makes the ECT Euromax ideally positioned for receiving the container giants of today. No special measures are required for OOCL’s G-class vessels, which are just under 400 metres long and 59 metres wide; ULCSs have unlimited access 24/7. “The long-term schedule that the shipping line establishes with us for each liner service forms the basis for smooth handling at the terminal,” explain General Manager Philip Beesemer and Operations Manager Maurice Hesselmans of the ECT Euromax terminal. “This guarantees fixed time slots (windows) throughout the year during which the quay is available for the service in question.” Flexibility is still crucial though.
“A lot can happen between the departure from Asia and the arrival in Rotterdam. Until the very last moment, all sorts of changes can occur.”
For the ECT Euromax, the 'real work' for receiving the OOCL Hong Kong, for example, starts about six weeks before arrival, the moment the ship departs from the first port in Asia. “At that time, we already know how many containers they plan to unload at the Euromax. The number of containers that needs to be loaded is not known until roughly 24 hours before arrival. For commercial reasons, OOCL and the alliance partners sailing aboard the ship keep this window open for as long as possible.”
The closer to Europe and Rotterdam, the more frequently the central planning department of OOCL at the European headquarters in Antwerp will provide ECT with updates on the position of the OOCL Hong Kong and the current sailing schedule. One week prior to the expected arrival, the contact becomes really intensive. “Think of it as a funnel,” says Hesselmans. “As the process progresses the bigger picture becomes clearer. In the last week before arrival, we fine-tune all the aspects of the call together with the Rotterdam office of the shipping line.” Beesemer adds: “This also includes the possible unloading and loading of hazardous substances, special cargo and, if applicable, the presence of rush containers. We unload the latter category first; they are ready for onward transport immediately after discharge.
Once the 21,413-TEU OOCL Hong Kong is moored and the gangway of the ship has been lowered, the ECT Euromax immediately swings into action. Beesemer and Hesselmans: “By default, we start with an inspection round aboard each visiting ship. We want to make sure that our people can work safely.
“Optimal handling requires co-makership between ECT and the shipping line”
The ship is next unloaded and loaded based on its current stowage plan. Around 24 hours before the expected arrival time, the central planning department of the shipping line submits this plan to the ECT Euromax. “We always strive for dual cycling whenever the stowage plan allows it. This enables us to both load and unload a container in the same crane movement, considerably speeding up the process.” Coordination beforehand about the manner of stowage is crucial in this respect. The same applies to the use of twin lifting, the simultaneous unloading or loading of two 20-foot containers. “Optimally handling a ship such as the OOCL Hong Kong requires co-makership between ECT and the shipping line. In close consultation, we strive for an optimal planning and execution. As a terminal, we can thus always achieve a maximum performance. And this benefits all parties involved!”
OOCL Hong Kong at the quay of ECT Euromax terminal