Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Container Shipping Dispute in Major European Port Escalates

Court Ruling Means Fight for Box Business Will Intensify
Shipping News Feature

NETHERLANDS – Rotterdam, often put up as the European port which others aspire to be, has had a fair share of troubles of late. Today the Rotterdam District Court (Rechtbank) found against the plaintiffs, Europe Container Terminals (ECT) and in favour of the city’s Port Authority over a matter of allegations that agreements concerning the box handling terminals Maasvlakte 1 and 2 had been broken. Competition between shipping lines and handling companies is fierce and Maersk alone are said to have set aside €100 million via APM Terminals with DP World also making a substantial investment to develop new terminals within Maasvlakte 2.

ECT is part of Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) and is complaining about the extra capacity afforded by the new facility. It had claimed €900,000 in compensation saying the Port Authority had acted improperly by promoting more competition between the handling companies. ECT has a legal commitment to pay toward channel dredging to accommodate the new facility. This too the Court found ECT is bound to comply to.

Despite the talk of overcapacity the fact remains that at the height of summer this year the throughput by the Rotterdam box terminals was woefully poor. Shipping lines introduced congestion charges as delays built up and Hapag-Lloyd found it necessary to divert numerous sailings to Antwerp to avoid the problems. ECT blamed much of their delays on late arrival of vessels from the far-east and the need to install five new key cranes at their Delta terminal.

Today’s Court decision was met with dismay by union representatives at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) which says the ruling should not lead to two terminals at the port’s new Maasvlakte 2 site being rushed ‘prematurely’ into operation. The high level of mechanisation being included within the new facilities plainly worries the ITF which can foresee job losses. Paddy Crumlin, ITF President and Chair of the ITF dockers’ section, commented:

“This decision should not be taken as a green light to expansion without dialogue. There is a clear need for discussion around a phased implementation of Maasvlakte 2. That must include a dialogue involving all stakeholders, including the representative workers’ union, FNV Havens, and it must cover areas such as job creation, job stability and sustainability. Without that process, the future of one of the world’s busiest and most successful ports – and one with a record of good labour relations – will be put at risk.”