Dry bulk traffic at Spanish ports decreased by an average of 22%
in 2009, with tonnage down from 101mt (million tonnes) to
Valencia, however, suffered particularly badly, dropping 32%
from 5.16mt to 3.52mt, with the downturn in the construction
industry being the main cause of the volume reduction. Cement
and clinker, for example, went down by 43% to 1.38mt, while
coal and petcoke dropped by 61% to 226,000 tonnes. There
were some bright spots, however, with fertilizer rising by 20% to
551,000 tonnes.
For the first two months of this year, bulk solids have
continued to fall, with cement and clinker particularly badly
affected by the construction downturn. Indeed, the 93% drop
registered in January and February meant that overall volume
was down to 26,000 tonnes. Fertilizer, however, bucks the trend,
growing 10% to 110,000 tonnes, as does cereals, up 10% to
104,000 tonnes, and coal and petcoke, up 52% to 38,000 tonnes.
Effectively, Valencia is a net importer of bulk solids, with 87%
of the total inbound and 13% outbound in 2009. The range of
goods handled, however, is reasonably extensive. In addition to
the aforementioned cement, clinker, fertilizer, coal and petcoke,
the port also handles steel products, aggregates, potash, chemical
products and animal feedstuffs.
Bulk traffic is concentrated at two main quays. Xitá, which
handles non-edible products, has a 16-metre draught clearance,
while the South Quay, which can accommodate vessels drawing
up to 14 metres of water, specializes in edible dry bulks.
Average vessel size tends to be in the region of 75,000dwt.
Landside movement is split between road and rail, with final
destination normally dictating how moves are undertaken. The
port authority is currently upgrading the reception and discharge
facilities to bring them up to today’s more demanding standards.
In terms of overall vessel productivity, the port authority
notes that on offer at Valencia is highly competitive and as good
as that offered by other facilities in the Mediterranean.
It is difficult to talk about bulks being ‘captive’ to the port,
since there are several alternative outlets both to the north and
south. In order to remain competitive, therefore, the question is
not to adjust prices to retain traffic: it is being capable of offering
attractive costs covering the logistics involved in moving
consignments inland.
Although it once appeared that policy at the port authority
was to transfer dry bulk traffic to the smaller port of Sagunto,
which is to be found several kilometres north of Valencia, the
spokesperson stresses that there is no specific policy in place.
However, a tender for a dedicated dry bulk facility at Sagunto
was issued and an award made to a private operator.
Finally, when asked whether Valencia can add value to any of
the products that it handles, the spokesperson pointed out that
the whole port is orientated towards meeting the needs of
individual clients.
A website exists to bring together shipping agents, vessel
operators and freight handlers, while a quality guarantee scheme,
which is unique in the world, enables clients to know exactly
what it is they are getting whenever they use the port.
The economic crisis sweeping the global ports industry did
impact negatively on traffic at the northern Spanish port of
Santander, where various commodities decreased by between 8%
and 15% during 2009, when overall dry bulk traffic fell by 22%
from 3.73mt to 2.91mt. According to Benjamín García Pastor,
the port authority’s commercial director, the first few months of
2010 has resulted in something of an upturn in tonnage,
suggesting that the crisis is not getting any worse and the port
therefore might have a better year, although not a particularly
good one compared to recent performances.
Santander is actually a net importer of dry bulks, although
there are also important flows of outbound traffic. Coal, scrap,
manganese, iron products, carbonates, sulphates, cereals, cement
and artificial fertilizer are all handled.
“The port is adapted for the handling of Panamax vessels,
although we are currently working on a project to deepen the
draught alongside the quays, which will allow us to accommodate
even larger vessels,” says García.
Typical vessels visiting Santander tend to average 70,000dwt.
Restrictions on the draught of the access canal mean that only
11.5 metres of water can be drawn at low tide.
“Santander is the biggest user of rail among the various
Spanish ports. All our quays are equipped with both narrow
gauge connections to the FEVE network and broad gauge lines
operated by RENFE. We also have good motorway connections,
so a lot of dry bulk can be shipped out by road. It tends to be
distance that dictates whether consignments go by road or rail,”
says García.
The minerals terminal at the port is one of the most modern
in the country and achieves high levels of productivity. In
addition, up to 300,000 tonnes of dry bulk can be stored, with
environmentally friendly hoppers in place ensuring that dust
pollution is kept to a minimum. Most of the terminal operations
are also automated.
A similar terminal aimed at agribulk traffic is under
“The rising cost of transporting raw materials means that
production facilities nowadays need to use the closest possible
facilities to receive or despatch consignments. Sometimes, two
ports can compete for the same traffic when the cost of
transporting the freight is similar. In these types of cases, it is
those ports that can add value that attract consignments,”
stresses García.
He says that Santander’s bulk handlers do therefore have to
add value. This can be in the form of saving time during handling
on the quay, providing environmental protection during
operations, classification and bagging.
At the French Mediterranean port of Marseilles, dry bulk
traffic fell dramatically, decreasing by some 40% to 8.46mt. This
was due mostly to the decision by Fos-based steel major
ArcelorMittal to shut down one of its two foundries until
October, as the economic crisis began to bite. This cut the
number of steel coil exports and also slashed imports. Overall,
the steel company reduced activity in the region of 50% to end
the year having handled 4.6mt.
At the same time, the ore terminals supplies to a power
station and to the Rio Tinto plant went down by 36% to 2.7mt.
Bulk foodstuffs did much better, rising 36% to 985,000
tonnes. Grain traffic actually went up 40%. This was the result of
€25 million investment in the new Tellines cereals terminal,
which received €7 million alone in 2009. The objective is to
boost annual grain volumes from 500,000 tonnes to 1.5mt by
Significantly, Marseilles’ dry bulk sector was not affected by
industrial action from the dockworkers protesting about the
French Port Law reforms, which are seeing terminal operations
transferred to private companies, leaving the port authority to
concentrate on landlord duties. The future shape of operating
agreements for the Tellines cereals terminal and the public ore
terminal will be established by the end of the first half of the
present year. Currently involved in negotiations are Carfos,
which makes use of both and its ore-handling subsidiary
In 2009, traffic at the French Mediterranean port of Sète fell
by 4%. Dry bulk, which amounted to 996,000 tonnes, is
equivalent to 34% of the total, although dropped by 23% on the
“Historically, we have always been a major coal handling port,
but there was a serious decline last year. The local power
station closed down and the Total Chamonage de France
company decided to switch all consignments to Fos. Since then,
we have not received any coal vessels,” explains commercial
manager Arnaud Rieutort.
He adds that cement traffic also dropped, since several
projects due to start within the port itself were delayed.
Grain and soya, which are used to produce animal feedstuffs,
did well. Combined imports and exports grew by 30% to 94,000
tonnes. A lot of this traffic makes uses of the port’s canal
connection to the local inland waterway network. The Calimant
Sudeste company, which is a pool of barge operators, links the
facilities of several manufacturing co-operatives, which between
them monthly import about 30,000 tonnes of soya from Brazil.
Barges use the river port of Apropos, which is close to Chalon
sur Saone.
Once the grain and soya is turned in to foodstuffs, a part of it
is then exported, again via Sète.
Within the port itself, the Saipol company, which is a
subsidiary of another company producing biofuel, has its own
manufacturing facility. It exports animal feed produced there to
Tarragona, in Spain.
“This facility adds significant value to the dry bulk it receives.
Grain, for example, is used to make biofuel, but by-products,
such as animal feed, are also produced,” he concludes.
“We also handle fertilizer, but the Agrival factory next to the
port closed its plant for about six months last year, so
production went down and exports declined by 30%. However,
since December, it has begun working again at something like full
production. This year, fertilizer tonnage will therefore improve,”
says Rieutort, who nevertheless does not expect a resumption
of coal traffic.
There is a big project in the port to boost cereals traffic.
Axcereal, which is the third-largest company in France, already
operates a silo in the port, but is opening a second. This should
boost business from 80,000 tonnes annually to 400,000 tonnes.
Dry bulk is handled at various berths, where draught ranges
from 12 metres to 13.5 metres. However, nowadays, the average
vessel size is in the 4,000–5,000 dwt range. Previously, coal was
shipped in by 60,000dwt Panamax vessels.
Fertilizer imports are mainly in vessels of 4,000–5,000dwt,
although inbound fertilizer from South America has resulted in
up to 50,000dwt vessels being used. Monthly soya shipments
imported from Brazil require 30,000dwt vessels.
Rieutort says that grain vessels serving markets such as Libya
and Tunisia tend to require larger ships, since it is the state
which is doing the purchasing. Mediterranean markets, such as
Italy and Greece, in contrast, use 4,000dwt vessels, since
consignments are smaller.
“A lot of the grain we handle comes to the port by inland
waterway, although road and rail are also important. Sète has
particularly good multi-modal connections,” says Rieutort.
Quayside handling is undertaken by grab cranes and
shiploaders. Grabs can handle a range of between 12 tonnes
and 40 tonnes, with productivity overall amounting to 600tph
(tonnes per hour), which he says is good compared with other
“We don’t have strikes here so we have a good labour
environment,” he stresses.
Most of the dry bulk handled at Sète, says Rieutort, is captive
to the port. There is local competition, but Sète has a lot of
good expertise in dry bulk. Nevertheless, he concedes that, in
the case of coal, if the end user closes, consignments will
inevitably go elsewhere.
Dry bulk traffic at the Italian port of Monfalcone dropped by
18.77% in 2009, as the economic downturn began to bite. The
port is mostly an import facility, with inbound consignments
consisting of coal, kaolin, iron tablets and granite.
Grain and by-products are also handled, for which two railmounted
pneumatic cranes are available, offering a maximum
capacity of 250tph. These are connected to the silos by means
of chain belt conveyors and bucket elevators. The silos, served
by a 120-metre-long private dock which is also rail-connected,
have a maximum capacity of 70,000 tonnes.
Vessel size range from 2,000dwt to 17,000dwt, restricted in
part by the draught, which varies between 9.5 metres and 11.7
A variety of handling equipment is available for bulk traffic,
including power shovels and self-propelled rubber-tyred
hoppers equipped with filters for powdery materials. In addition,
a special grab with a grimping jaw is available for the handling of
Average storage capacity for each commodity is as follows:
  •   slabs: 10,000 tonnes
  •   china clay: 3,000 tonnes
  •   coal: 3,000 tonnes
  •   cellulose: 12,000 tonnes
  •   grain: 500 tonnes
  •   woodchips: 8,000 tonnes
  •   iron ingots: 3,000 tonnes
  •   logs: 3,000 tonnes
  •   iron scrap: 3,000 tonnes
Competition for Monfalcone comes from other ports in the
North Adriatic, says a port spokesperson, who points out that
no processing of consignments currently takes place within the