From the very beginning of container handling in 1968 to today's global container industry: the 23rd of October 2018 marks Hapag-Lloyd’s 50th anniversary as a customer of Hutchison Ports ECT Rotterdam.
On the 23rd of October 1968, the Weser Express of Hapag-Lloyd called at the ECT terminal in the Eemhaven for the very first time. The container industry was still in its absolute infancy. In Rotterdam, ECT had been operating its own terminal dedicated to the then-new phenomenon of the container for just over a year (August 1967). Among the shipping lines, Hapag-Lloyd was the first European carrier to have four container ships built in Hamburg for a regular service between Western Europe and the east coast of North America. The ships had a length of 171 metres and a capacity of 736 TEU. The Weser Express was the first to visit Rotterdam.
Nowadays, Hapag-Lloyd operates a fleet of 226 own vessels and transports nearly 10 million TEU worldwide. 600 ports are served by means of 120 liner services. On average, the ECT Delta in Rotterdam receives four of the shipping line’s deepsea vessels a week; this includes Hapag-Lloyd’s largest ships, which measure 400 metres in length and have a capacity of 19,870 TEU. Furthermore, cargo of Hapag-Lloyd sails aboard the ships of its partners in THE Alliance, ONE and Yang Ming, as well.
Despite the massive increase in scale, the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the loyal attitude of Hapag-Lloyd towards partners like ECT. “The same holds true regarding its own employees,” says Tom Demolder (50), Managing Director Hapag-Lloyd Benelux for the last four years but working for the German shipping line for his entire career already. “Once upon a time, I started out in Antwerp cleaning containers.”
“A well-run terminal combines attractive rates with productivity and flexibility,” continues the Managing Director. “Ultimately, it is all about the combination. A low price is pointless if the ship next stays at the quay too long. We are satisfied with the productivity of ECT. The operation is a well-oiled machine.” Flexibility is also essential. “Sometimes a ship arrives too late and sometimes it needs to depart early: that’s just the way it is.” What Demolder finds difficult to understand is the continuing congestion in Rotterdam (and Antwerp) for both inland shipping and feeders. “All parties involved are looking at this from their own perspectives. The sector must work together on a real solution. Looking at the bigger picture can result in a win-win situation for everyone.”
Hapag-Lloyd itself is a frequent user of inland shipping, partly also via European Gateway Services. “As a shipping line, we provide door-to-door services. For our hinterland transport in the Benelux and Germany, we mainly opt for inland navigation, although we are increasingly looking at rail as well. From an environmental point of view, road transport is not something we promote.”
To discover further potential improvements in the terminal’s service provision, Hapag-Lloyd and ECT embarked on a joint customer journey in May 2018. According to Demolder, one appealing example of that process is the dual cycling proposed by ECT: unloading and loading a container on board of a vessel in one single crane cycle. “This can significantly boost productivity and should benefit both the terminal and the shipping line.”
Dual cycling does not happen automatically and brings with it specific requirements for stowage. “It is good to note that ECT employees have been to Hamburg for consultation with our central planners. Dual cycling requires time and energy from both sides,” concludes Demolder. “The entire customer journey process stimulates us to keep on thinking. On the part of both ECT and Hapag-Lloyd, I see a great willingness to further invest in our relationship.”
Baptism of the ship 'Al-Jmeliyah' of Hapag Lloyd on September 11th 2018 on the ECT Delta