Since early 2019, it has been possible for barges at ECT to officially make use of fixed windows. In this new concept, qualifying barge operators are unloaded and loaded at fixed times at both Hutchison Ports ECT Delta and Hutchison Ports ECT Euromax. Several barge operators are currently already enjoying the benefits of this new service aimed at increasing the reliability and consistency of the inland shipping product.
“Within ECT, we have already been searching for extra possibilities for serving the inland shipping sector at our deepsea terminals for quite some time,” says Chief Executive Officer Leo Ruijs. “This among other things has given rise to the idea of fixed windows. The handling of barges that meet specific criteria at set times.”
The new fixed windows concept is one of the solutions to the congestion and waiting times – and the uncertainty this entails – which the inland shipping sector has been experiencing for years in the port. Among other things through the sector-wide Inland Container Shipping Consultations, headed by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, all relevant parties within and beyond the port are seeking structural improvements in the inland shipping chain. ECT is an active participant, with the fixed windows initiative being one of the concrete results.
The most important requirement for participation in the fixed windows concept at ECT is that an inland vessel consistently unloads and loads a minimum number of containers at the deepsea terminal at a fixed time. Operations Manager Jeffrey Scheurwater: “In order to qualify for a fixed window, this number of containers has been set at 175 per ship call at the ECT Delta and at 150 for the ECT Euromax. More is allowed, welcomed even.” ECT hopes and is also actually noticing that the initiative serves as an incentive for inland shipping parties to consolidate volumes to allow for larger call sizes. Scheurwater: “At our deepsea terminals, we still encounter too many barges that factually follow each other in succession, each looking to unload and load only a few dozen containers at the most. That is really inefficient. It takes ten to twenty minutes to position a new ship under the crane. During this time, the crane is idle, which consequently means a loss of handling capacity. All this adds up very quickly in a company that operates around the clock.” Commercial Executive Arno van Rijn adds: “We are noticing an increased interest in our new services in the market. New partnerships are emerging in the sector; partnerships that have been deemed logical for a long time, but that are now also actually being implemented.”
Together with several barge operators, ECT conducted a pilot with the fixed windows concept in 2018. The results were so positive that ECT has been offering fixed windows as an official product since the 1st of January 2019. Participating barge operators are required to pay a fixed fee for participation: respectively 750 euros for a single ship and 1250 euros for a so-called ‘dual bank’, a combination of two ships attached to each other. "Through fixed windows, we offer the inland shipping sector an extra service with a demonstrable value," explains Ruijs the choice to price the inland shipping product separately. “We make special capacity available at our terminals, which we allocated in a ‘dedicated’ fashion. The benefits for the inland shipping sector are clear as well. Good planning makes the inland shipping product more reliable and consistent. Clients in the hinterland are better able to plan the activities in their warehouses and the sector itself for example saves on fuel and labour costs. Furthermore, the larger the call size, the lower the costs per container.”
Several barge operators have already entered into a fixed windows agreement with ECT; both parties have rights and obligations in that respect. Scheurwater: “We guarantee the stipulated end time for each visit. It may sometimes be the case that we start work on a barge a bit later due to circumstances or at the request of the customer, but we will do everything we can to still honour the agreement made. The stipulated times are firm.” Conversely, the participating inland shipping operators must adhere to the agreed fixed times at which they will call at the terminal and to the stipulated minimum call sizes.
Approximately 25 percent of the barge volumes at ECT are already handled by means of fixed windows. There is room for further growth. In addition to this, there will always be room for the regular handling of barges. This is done in accordance with a planning method that is transparent to all parties and is published on the ECT website.
In the meantime, the endeavour to further improve the service rendering to inland shipping is continuing unabatedly. Earlier, ECT for example introduced the Barge Transferium Maasvlakte at the inland barge terminal in the Hartelhaven port area which is directly connected with the ECT Delta. At this transferium, inland barge operators, logistics service providers and shippers can have their ships unloaded and loaded at a fixed fee whilst being in control of the quay planning. The market is definitely interested. Implementation in practice is the next step to take.