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The port and industrial world is changing all the time. The companies affiliated with the Rotterdam Port Promotion Council are continually involved with modernising, making technical improvements, expanding their services or targeting new markets. In the Showcases, the spotlight is on these interesting developments.
RPPC's programme is always drawn up after many discussions with its Board, its Advisory Board and its donors. In September, a Rotterdam port delegation will be travelling to the United States, given the opportunities which exist there. But what exactly are these opportunities? RPPC Director Marjolein Warburg discusses them in more depth with Jan Crezee, Manager of Share Logistics. His company is closely involved in putting together the promotional trip, and seems fully ready to tackle the battles and opportunities in the US.
The United States is a market where we have to stay on our toes, believes Jan Crezee. Although negotiations are still in full swing on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), the new trade treaty between the US and the European Union, the Manager of Share Logistics expects that dropping the trade barriers in the near future will cause volumes to increase substantially. ''I foresee a huge boost, because it will be easier for American SME companies to export to the EU. We are already aware of it. Exports from the Netherlands are growing, and certainly from Hamburg. We need to get going now, because shortly the European market will be flooded with, for example, semi-manufactures of chemical products. But more European products, like French cheese and Italian shoes, will also be heading to the US then.'' Marjolein Warburg suggests: ''So you are already preparing...''
We're ready for it, says Crezee. ''We believe that our Northern European network is prepared and is fulfilling a clear need. If the logistics chain needs it, we also want to be able to offer it via Hamburg, for instance. We will then take on the task from our offices in New York and Miami.'' To this end Share Logistics, which came about through a management buy-out, has strengthened its European offices. ''The offices in Rotterdam, Hamburg, Bremen, Le Havre, Barcelona, Valencia, Prague and Felixstowe have already notched up plenty of experience with the US, given that each office has run services to it for years.''
Marjolein Warburg comments: ''After the management buy-out you were really an independent entrepreneur, after having been employed for so many years.'' Jan Crezee confirms this with a laugh. ''Yes, but I've always worked in the ports world. After secondary school I sailed, then returned to Rotterdam where among other things, as a captain I arranged the provisioning of ships day and night, at the buoys in the Waalhaven and the Europoort. Then I ended up forwarding and that’s where my heart lies. I did make one excursion as a distributor which then let me learn about the other side of service provision, very useful, but I always knew that I would ultimately return to forwarding.''
Share Logistics performs the transportation of all manner of goods, using the available modalities. If necessary it creates tailor-made solutions for a client. There’s a clear strategy behind this, explains the manager. ''Our organisation is fully set-up for service provision for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). We listen to the client and see what’s needed in the market to be able to anticipate this. We want to make it very clear that we are focusing on SME clients, what we want and above all, what we can do. When we started with Share Logistics, the first priority was to establish a basis for continuity. Now we have a good distribution, geographically as well as in terms of clients and revenues, and we are achieving sufficient volumes. We believe it's important that all aspects of the company exude the same values. For example, we only work with reliable suppliers, we pay on time, and our office premises say something about the kind of company we are.''
The headquarters of Share Logistics can be found in PortCity II in Rotterdam's Waalhaven. Crezee: ''It very deliberately has a modern aura to it, we have a clean-desk policy and all documents are kept under lock and key. The era of piles of paper on desks in forwarding companies is now long gone. Neither is it needed anymore. We have an innovative system, because it’s essential to provide the client with information. Thanks to the system, which is always available online, we have access at all times to prices and other details. It does require regular upgrades, and I invest a lot in that.'' According to Marjolein Warburg this is a very individual course in Share's sector. Crezee: ''To me, people are the core of the business. Together with our digital system, we are going to win.''
Returning to opportunities in the United States, Crezee notes: ''Abetted by our broad experience in the US, we have modified our strategy and have developed the area further. We find our clients mainly among the suppliers to the major producers.'' ''Is this a difficult market?” asks the RPPC Director? Crezee: ''No, it’s a different market, requiring a divergent approach. We have a telemarketing team which calls the United States from Rotterdam using an American dialling code. These are cold calls, but we have good lists and it works. It's a daily market there, and they very readily say 'send me a quotation', sometimes dozens of times a day.''
Marjolein Warburg recalls that Crezee often accompanied RPPC to Asia in the past. Crezee: ''I've been going to China since the 1980s. That's where the accent of our trade lay at the time. That’s still the case, but less so than in the past, and our focus is shifting.'' Warburg: ''Did you always believe more could be achieved in the United States?'' That was certainly the case, explains Jan Crezee. ''However we had to fight for it as Rotterdam port in the United States.'' Warburg: ''Is that the reason that you keep participating so faithfully in the various bodies?'' Crezee: ''Yes, because I want to make a contribution to Rotterdam’s development. I feel at home here, and so it’s not difficult for me to sell Rotterdam.''
Nevertheless the Share Logistics Manager emphasises that work needs to be done to put Rotterdam on the map in the US, and to claim part of its growth. ''We have to improve our hinterland connections still further. As a forwarder I need to make the best deal for a client, and if that’s via Hamburg, then Rotterdam is missing out. A lot of trans-Atlantic cargoes currently go via the North-German ports and Antwerp. Germany also has more to export, and that goes via its own ports. But imports can be controlled more, so this is where Rotterdam needs to focus on more. After all, many of the Rotterdam port’s USPs don't apply to the US, such as the draught and first port of call, given that the ports in the US are not that deep, and the goods can be carried on smaller vessels which can go anywhere. We need to be on top of this, be visible to shippers and the authorities. What's needed is to come up with a joint strategy.''
The cranes and quays are ready, as are the offices. With the vast area which Maasvlakte 2 boasts, it's not difficult to envisage that the world's largest container ships will shortly be berthed here. APM Terminals is one of the two terminals which will soon be open for business. Right now the final operational issues are being arranged. The time is right for Frank Tazelaar, Managing Director of APM Terminals Maasvlakte 2, to look back with RPPC Director Marjolein Warburg on the terminal's construction.
With their orange accents and modern architecture, the APM Terminals offices in Maasvlakte have a striking appearance. ''It’s a brand-new building,'' points out Frank Tazelaar. The company moved into the premises in July. ''But we were already in Maasvlakte 2 in October 2013, working from the building which now houses the technical services. That was convenient at the time, given that construction was in full swing and we were able to test everything. We did the entire development phase, right from the start in 2008, from our offices on Boompjes street in the centre of Rotterdam.''
Marjolein Warburg compliments him on the appearance of the office premises. ''You can see immediately that a lot of thought went into it.'' Tazelaar: ''What you often see is that offices are an afterthought. That's absolutely not the case with us. Although the offices only absorbed a very small proportion of the overall expenditure, it's actually here that you establish some of your culture; how people work together, and how departments are related. In our case the office premises are also the place from which a huge change in the terminal management is supported. Whereas the crane operators were previously out of sight of the organisation, in this new terminal we are working with remote operators based in the heart of the office building, literally. The crane operators load and unload the ships at Maasvlakte 2 with consoles, from an area on the third floor of the office building. And we're happy to be able to set up all the processes right now, in the place where it will soon actually be happening. Finally, we have also incorporated sustainability in the building; it's the first office building in the port with a BREEAM certificate for green premises.''
''So building the office premises occurred in tandem with building the terminal,'' points out Marjolein Warburg. ''That's right,'' confirms Frank Tazelaar. ''Although we did tackle it separately as part of the process. On the one hand there was the civil contract for building the terminal, while for the offices we looked for a suitable contractor and separate project leaders on our part. In fact you shouldn't mix the two issues, because for the terminal you are working with speed, time, efficiency and huge volumes. For the offices there needs to be more interaction with the organisation that is going to work there, if you want to get it right.''
The RPPC Director recalls that the project began in 2008 with a small group of people from APM Terminals. ''That was indeed the case for some time, up until the beginning of 2011,'' notes Tazelaar. ''For the development we worked with five people for quite some time. That was also partly because of the tough economic situation, but it did in fact give us time to think carefully about the terminal and which technologies would be the best. Naturally we will only be successful once we are running and things are stable, and we will need a while for that, but I can certainly say that so far things have gone well, and that’s partly thanks to the starting phase.''
Marjolein Warburg is curious as to how that works, getting going on such a project with a small group. ''So what would your days look like?'' Frank Tazelaar smiles at the recollection. ''That’s when you're working mainly with paper. Studying plans and making calculations. Reading a lot, brainstorming and researching. Your motivation needs to come from inside mainly. And together you need to hold tight to the attitude that 'We're going to climb this mountain.' Then an entirely different dynamic follows, because once the first spade has been dug in the soil, things are determined mainly by your environment.'' ''Then it’s more a case of go, go, go,'' adds Warburg. That's absolutely the case, says the APMT Managing Director. ''In 2011 we augmented our team with technical specialists at a rapid rate. From 2012 we also acquired the rest of the management team for the future. Here too we had a parallel policy. On the one hand there was the solid technology, involving innovation, time, money and costs. On the other we had the people. This involved designing the organisation and associated culture. You really need to put an equal amount of energy into this. So we already had a head of HR two years ago, making an early start on organisational charts, training courses and the collective employment agreement.''
''Are all the people you have recruited for this terminal new?'' asks Warburg. Tazelaar: ''In the initial years we recruited a lot of new people. The operation we will be running here is very different to that of a classic terminal. So we deliberately recruited people from other automated industries. Now our organisation has some 280 employees, of whom 200 come from the existing terminal on the first Maasvlakte. Next year we will move to more than 300 employees.'' Warburg: ''How do they feel about this change?'' Tazelaar: ''That was an important question: will our colleagues be able to make this transition from a traditional terminal to this state-of-the-art operation quickly? But we simply went for it. Our colleagues underwent extra training, but the knowledge and experience they had acquired with the existing terminal was very useful here. Everyone was also offered their own choice on whether to move from APMTR to APMT MVII. There's been a lot of enthusiasm, and people are genuinely involved. Our employees realise that they are frontrunners. After all, we are the most advanced terminal within the APM Terminals organisation worldwide.''
''Why did you in fact opt for this?'' asks the RPPC Director. ''That's because of the challenges we already envisaged when drawing out and designing the project,'' explains Frank Tazelaar. ''This terminal has to last for a long time, and so we opted strongly for the three-faceted approach of safety, sustainability and productivity. We wanted to design the terminal in such a way that the safety level would be raised even further. We also made sure that construction occurred safely during the building phase. Naturally the inspiration for working harder towards sustainability was motivated initially by the Port of Rotterdam Authority. But once the project was underway, we definitely got the bit between our teeth. Now we are the first emissions-free terminal in the world. That wasn't a requirement, but we actually believe in it ourselves. In addition, it saves on operational costs. For productivity, issues such as the speed of the vehicles and the size of the cranes were considered. But it also involves the way of doing business with the outside world, with our clients. We have spoken a lot with our partners. For instance, we concluded working arrangements with the transporters on implementing slot management.''
RPPC also updates clients and relations on this during the promotional trips, indicates Marjolein Warburg. Tazelaar: ''That’s good to hear, because it really is new. All road transporters must notify their containers and cargoes to Portbase in advance. The exporters, importers and freight forwarders must all submit customs documentation in advance. We opted for this to let the operation run even better. The IT was renewed in its entirely, so now we were also able to do this.'' ''Wasn’t that scary? After all, you’re expecting people to work differently,'' wonders Warburg. ''We couldn't impose it, so we had to explain it and justify our decisions. Now we are indeed seeing that the acceptance level is growing strongly at Portbase. That’s certainly also attributable to the fact that we were able to roll it out together with Portbase and Rotterdam World Gateway (terminal Maasvlakte 2 ed.).''
The opening date is steadily approaching now. In response to issues raised in the media, Marjolein Warburg asks: ''Are you really running behind schedule?'' Frank Tazelaar: ''We amended the date, because the largest cranes still needed a little more work. We were going to open officially in November. That will now be February, because for us, opening to the first regular deepsea call is part of a weekly pattern. But from the end of November we will in fact be running the rail terminal commercially, and we'll also get going with inland shipping in December. For the clients this is not a pressure point, because the terminal in the first Maasvlakte will be a buffer for us in this first phase. The February opening is also an immovable point in the planning. Given the extent of this project, two months isn't a lot.'' Looking back on it all, the Managing Director says, ''This project is unique. I'm astonished at the huge speed, and the energy this has unleashed. And on top of all the innovations, we are also emissions-free. These are wonderful breakthroughs.''
Putting movement to good use is what the members of the Royal Boatmen Association Eendracht have been doing for the past 120 years. The fact that this expertise has taken them far beyond simply mooring and unmooring ships was not something they might initially have expected. The boatmen have since become partners in resolving nautical problems in the world of ports and offshore, explains Chairman Erik de Neef to RPPC Director Marjolein Warburg. ''There's no such thing as 'can't be done'.''
This year the Royal Boatmen Association Eendracht (KRVE) has been in existence for 120 years. Their core business has remained unchanged over all these years. The boatmen still ensure that ships are tied up or released from buoys, posts, jetties and quays. They also deploy their experience offshore, on drilling platforms and floating cranes. ''We have been doing this as long as offshore has existed in Rotterdam, among other things by supplying riggers on-deck,'' explains Erik de Neef, who in addition to being a boatman, has also fulfilled the role of Chairman since January.
This expertise has not gone unnoticed. ''On Ascension Day in 2006 we were approached by the Fairmount tugboat company. A floating crane needed to be moored in Africa, but neither they nor their contractors could manage it, because of the weather and the local conditions. They lacked the expertise. Thanks to their work in Rotterdam, Fairmount knew that the KRVE would be able to do it. For us it's our daily bread to secure things alongside the quay,'' notes De Neef. It was a very exciting assignment, recalls the Chairman. ''It was urgent, and we had to deliver the very next day. We got to work immediately, as we always do; first resolve the problem, and only then talk about contracts. For us it was more about being able to sort out the job, rather than earning money. Naturally we arranged the insurance properly in advance, and we put together a special team of boatmen who could work for us offshore. Instead of the six people they requested, we sent ten boatmen to Africa. We wanted to be sure things would work out well, and indeed they did!''
''So you took on this sudden assignment as a pilot,'' Marjolein Warburg says. ''But when did you know that you were dealing with a new product?'' De Neef: ''We had never actually considered that we could do more with our experience elsewhere in the world. But basically, it was pretty obvious. We have acquired a great deal of knowledge because Rotterdam's port is so diverse in terms of ships and weather conditions. Our people have nautical expertise and understand not just sailing, but the deck work too. This gives us skills no other providers have. Fairmount has tugs right around the world, and was able to make good use of the KRVE in other jobs. We've really plunged into this niche market, it's really great,'' says the enthusiastic Chairman.
What also helps, believes De Neef, is their motto: There's no such thing as 'can't be done'. A boatman will never come back with the message that something didn't work and that it's impossible. We never abandon an object without a solution. And it involves teamwork. Naturally someone is appointed in charge of each project, a radio-man. But it's not as if one person comes up with the idea and the others simply carry it out. For projects like these, we operate with a think-tank consisting of a variety of people. That's something very typically Dutch. But the KRVE always has to arrange things itself, and it’s precisely from this independence that we derive our strength.''
Erik de Neef was involved closely in the first global offshore steps. ''Together with the chairman at the time, Mat Slotboom, and colleague Gerrit van de Burg, we took the initiative to strike out in this new direction with KRVE.'' Warburg: ''Now you're ten years further on. How have things turned out now?'' After very many projects with Fairmount, in which they also worked with their Italian colleagues according to Erik de Neef, such jobs eased off because of the tough economic times. ''So then we took KRVE in another direction. In the NOOD (emergency) consultations conducted with the other Rotterdam nautical service providers, the State Harbour Master asked whether a solution could be found for keeping ships moored, after the disaster involving a container ship which broke free.''
KRVE's boatmen got to work collectively. ''It seems as though we are asked when no-one else has any more ideas if a nautical problem arises,'' chuckles De Neef. ''We're happy to take on these challenges. That includes this one, where years of development finally produced the ShoreTension. In 2009, we were ready for the first test of the system, where the ship's energy is absorbed in the hawser and the movements are transferred. For us it was a blessing in disguise that a ship had suffered a collision at sea, putting its stern underwater. By positioning the ShoreTension on the terminal quay, the ship could be unloaded safely. It was super-positive that it worked! After all, had it gone wrong, then that would have been the end of the ShoreTension. So it was a huge risk, but we are entrepreneurs, so now and then you have to take a chance.''
The success of the ShoreTension spurred a desire to innovate more, explains the KRVE Chairman. Warburg: ''In response to client demand. I think you always want to help, even if that means developing a product to this end.'' That is certainly the case, according to Erik de Neef. ''We are the only ones doing this work, and would really like the Rotterdam port and our company to stand out. Safety is, of course, paramount at all times.'' It is particularly the shipyard, where the KRVE builds its own boats and ships for external parties, that is the very core of the innovations. ''This is where the special fender was developed, which absorbs the shock when ships moor and come alongside. This is an innovation which is widely deployable. For instance, we designed a bow that can be positioned on ships that carry out inspections and perform maintenance on wind-turbines, among others in Eemshaven. Thanks to the fender, the ships now stay neatly between the posts irrespective of the wind and swells,'' says De Neef.
KRVE has also designed a mooring buoy. ''It's easy to use, has the heaviest safe working load of 240 tons, and is, of course, certified by Lloyd’s Register. We'd also like to use our buoys offshore,'' notes the Chairman. Marjolein Warburg laughs: ''So there's another product waiting in the wings. If I've got it right, it was around the KRVE's 111th anniversary that you really branched out with all these developments. What happened prior to that?'' ''That’s when we concentrated mainly on the materials, planning and logistics of the pilot services (the boatmen ferry the pilots over water and road, ed.) and training,'' explains De Neef.
''We began our own training course in the 1980s. It wasn't necessary prior to that. All the boatmen came from inland shipping or from seafaring, or were tugboat captains. They had had few opportunities for further education, but thanks to their experience they had a wealth of expertise, such as in sailing, knots and splicing. This really raised KRVE to a higher level. In the 1960s and 70s this changed, and more aspiring boatmen came directly from school. That's when we started doing our own training. I was in fact part of that, when I began in 1987,'' recalls Erik de Neef. In the 1990s the Ministry of Education recognised the KRVE training as a fully-fledged route to becoming a Boatman. Now the Shipping and Transportation College (STC) has taken over this task for all the boatmen in the Dutch ports. ''For three years, boatmen go to school one day a week. They gain their practical experience with the KRVE. The fourth year is purely practical. Every boatman has a commercial vessels master's certificate and is also taught issues such as emergency or first-aid, technology, radar, safety and hazardous materials. This is how we stand out in the world.''
Marjolein Warburg returns to the innovations. ''It's wonderful to see that you have made use of your specialist knowledge and entrepreneurship to move into a niche market. De Neef: ''Yes, that is indeed so. We want to work alongside the client, constantly coming up with solutions for 'What if' situations. Our experience and own observations have given us significant strengths in this domain. But the innovations also produce even smarter technologies which we can deploy in our core business in turn. We would like to continue that trend, to work with clients and other parties, such as the other nautical service providers, the Dutch ports and the Vereniging van Bootlieden (the Boatmens' Association), to raise the service provision to an even higher level.''
With the current course of the boatmen, the KRVE doesn't want to encroach on the territory of any other market parties, points out De Neef. ''We will stay closely with our own core business, but we will indeed act as consultants. After all, these days we can also count Institute of Technology graduates among our teams, who can perform energy calculations for various innovations and situations, for instance.'' ''Is there a chance that one day you will no longer be actual boatmen?'' asks the RPPC Director. That seems quite a radical idea to Erik de Neef. ''Our revenue proportion is already around 70-30 and the margins are better in the additional business than in our core business. But for difficult mooring locations, boatmen will always be needed.''