Economic downturn has only partially damaged Danish dry bulk traffic
Although many container terminals around the globe have seen
catastrophic reductions in volumes handled, dry bulk terminals
have been more robust in withstanding the onslaught. The scene
in Denmark suggests that the worst impact has been no more
than a 10% reduction in traffic, which is by no means that
dramatic. However, a good harvest also meant that Kalundborg
actually did very well indeed, completely bucking the trend!
The Danish port of Horsens handled around 550,000 tonnes
of dry bulk last year, which was a drop of 10% over 2008,
although port director Peter Larsen said things could have been
very much worse. He points to other ports in the region, which
experienced traffic drops of 15–25%. Fortunately for Horsens, a
new customer, which had forecast volumes in the region of
30,000 tonnes, actually handled around 70,000 tonnes on the
year. The material being handled is chalk, which is pumped into a
urban waste incinerator to deliberately absorb heavy metals,
such as lead, and dioxides, which are by-products of the
incineration process.
“What you are left with is hazardous waste, which has to be
disposed of. We send the polluted chalk to Langoya island in
Norway, where it is mixed with acid, thereby neutralizing all the
dangerous material it contains. It is then used to backfill
excavated areas on the island,” Larsen explains.
In addition to this residue material, Horsens exported around
100,000 tonnes of scrap metal, in the from of turnings from local
factories and scrapped cars. The majority of this goes to the
German Baltic port of Wismar, although other consignments go
to Western and Mediterranean Spain.
Fertilizer is imported from the Baltic and from Germany,
while a local factory also annually receives 50,000 tonnes of
inbound soya from near Amsterdam, while imported grain and
corn from France, the UK and the Baltic are made into animal
Quizzed as to the forecast traffic levels for 2010, Larsen says
he expects last year’s volumes to stabilize. However, some of
the worst winter weather for the past 15 years has seen ice clog
the harbour pretty much since the turn of the year, with the
port authority having to spend substantial amounts of money to
maintain an ice-free fairway to enable vessels to access the port.
The result, is that traffic for the first two months is down.
Draught at Horsens is seven metres, which means that
average vessel size on dry bulk trades tends to be between
2,000dwt and 5,000dwt, with the odd 7,000dwt ship accessing
the harbour on favourable tides. Two cable cranes and a Multidocker
hydraulic materials handler undertake loading and
discharge duties. The latter, made in Sweden, particularly
impresses Larsen, who says that it can achieve productivity rates
of 400tph (tonnes per hour) and is therefore bears the brunt of
the quayside work, undertaking approximately two-thirds of all
loading and discharge work.
“I’m a big fan of the Multi-docker, which has the advantage of
being able to move easily up and down the quay,” he says.
Larsen believes Horsens’ productivity is better than that of
some competing ports, although concedes that he cannot prove
that statistically. Nevertheless, one indication that he may be
right is that the port last year handled some 100,000 tonnes of
crushed Norwegian stone, which is a highly seasonal product
imported during the spring and summer.
“In reality, this traffic could enter the country through a
number of ports, whereas most of the rest of the dry bulk that
we handle would naturally pass through Horsens,” he says.
In terms of landside operations, the rail link to the port
ceased working ten years ago, so all consignments arrive or leave
nowadays by road. Denmark, suggests Larsen, is simply too small
a country to justify haulage of bulk by rail, except where very
large ports and tonnages are concerned.
Finally, in terms of the provision of added-value services,
Horsens does bag fertilizer, with about one-third of all volume
thus treated. The product is mostly put into big bags prior to
onward transport.
While other dry bulk terminals in Scandinavia struggled
throughout 2009, the economic downturn had little impact on
Copmer’s grain handling operations at Kalundborg Bulk Terminal,
notes spokesperson Simon Christensen. He attributes this to
the big surplus of grain coming out of the Baltic region.
“Fortunately, there has been underlying growth in the
products that we mainly handle. Prices have been lower, but
volumes handled have not been impacted. Those terminals
surviving on imported feedstuffs had a bad time, but export
grain has generally increased in this region, as has imported
wood pellet traffic,” he says.
He believes the current year will also be a good one, since all
four terminals operated by the company in Kalundborg still have
a carry over of potential exports from the previous crop. If the
2010 harvest is a good one, this will help boost traffic even
more. Indeed, Denmark has seen something of a decline in
domestic feedstuffs production, while more area has been given
over to grain cultivation, so there is an underlying trend
favouring a long-term boost in exports.
The majority of Copmer’s export grain mainly goes to Italy,
Spain and Portugal, although other shipments are also sent to
ports in North Africa. All export grain is produced locally, while
imported wood pellets come mainly from Russia or the Baltic
region, with occasional inbound consignments also arriving from
southern Europe and North America.
Draught at Kalundborg is 11.6 metres. Bulk grain vessels
arriving there can vary in size from 3,000dwt to 25,000dwt, with
very occasional calls from 50,000dwt bulk carriers.
“The traffic we handle rarely requires Panamax-sized vessels,
so draught is usually sufficient. Once every five years we think
that it would be nice to have one metre more, but under normal
circumstances 11.6 metres is not a limitation,” says Christensen.
He says there is an overall long-term trend towards seeing
7,000dwt vessels replacing smaller, 3,000dwt vessels. However,
some consignments that would logically go out on 25,000dwt
vessels are often divided between 7,000–10,000dwt ships.
“A lot of this depends on the destination. In those years
when we are exporting large consignments to North Africa, we
might see vessel sizes of up to 30,000dwt. But we saw a large
proportion of 6,000–15,000dwt vessels during the last year,
which has been down to a combination of destination and price
spreads. For a long time, it was almost cheaper to book a
7,000dwt vessel than a 25,000dwt vessel. In addition, when cash
flow is under pressure, customers opt for 7,000 dead weight
tonnage,” he says.
Landslide consignments at Kalundborg arrive by road. The
port has very efficient reception and discharge facilities. There
are three discharge pits capable of receiving a total of 900tph,
divided between three facilities each capable of holding 300
tonnes. At harvest times, a further two 300-tonne discharge
facilities become active in a warehouse area.
“We load vessels with two ship loaders, one of which can
achieve 650tph and the other 300tph. They can be combined if
we have a very large vessel. I believe we are possibly the fastest
 port in terms of loading in this area,” claims Christensen.
As for handling equipment for inbound wood pellets, grab
cranes discharge directly onto a shiploader, which can be
reversed, delivering consignments directly into the warehouse.
There are occasionally self-discharging vessels, but these are not
He stresses that Kalundborg always faces competition,
specifically from small ports when bidding for smaller
consignments. When traffic is shipped out on coasters there is
no need for vessels to use deep sea ports. However, because
Kalundborg is the only deep seaport in eastern Denmark, it is
invariably the first choice outlet for much larger shipments.
“So, competition can come from local ports under certain
conditions. In fact, there are a lot of small ports in Denmark, so
there is stiff competition, which is why prices in Denmark are
lower than in the Baltic,” says Christensen.
Nevertheless, he explains that to overall relationship between
port terminal and client in Denmark is a little different from that
in other countries, because customers tend to use ports
structurally. Long-term agreements are in place, which results in
exporters viewing ports as part of their own logistics supply
chain. In most other countries, consignments are arranged on a
deal-by-deal basis. Given the closer co-operation in Denmark,
ports are therefore able to invest in their terminals, allowing
them to offer value added services to their customers. Copmer,
for example, has an on-dock drying facility at Kalundborg. The
big co-ops using the terminal can therefore plan their logistics
with that in mind. Customers also invariably benefit from lower
prices because of their longer-term commitment.
Claus Rosenbeck, operations manager at the Danish port of
Aalborg, concludes that 2009 was not one of the best years for
dry bulk at the port, although the downturn was only a minor
one. Volumes handled were down by 10%, with reductions being
across-the-board; not a single commodity was able to buck the
downward trend. “We don’t expect to see any major changes in
2010, with dry bulk volumes expected to be broadly similar to
those reported in 2009,” he says.
Total traffic at the port last year was 2.7mt (million tonnes).
Grain and feed stuffs, imported mainly from Germany and
Poland, as well as from other Eastern European states, accounted
for about 9% of total tonnage handle. Fertilizer traffic, which is
shipped to Aalborg from Lithuania, generated similar volumes.
The other two major bulks handled are stone and gravel
imported from Norway, amounting to 5% of port throughput
and Polish, Finish and Lithuanian wood pellets, equivalent to 3%
of the total tonnage.
Rosenbeck stresses that Aalborg is trying to develop dry bulk
traffic, but that it faces tremendous competition from road
haulage companies. Raw gypsum, for example, which used to be
a staple of the short sea shipping market, is no longer handled by
the port, with shipments now mostly confined to road.
Draught at Aalborg is 9.4 metres, and the normal average
vessel size calling the port for grain/bulk is 5,000dwt. Rosenbeck
stresses that this has been the standard size of vessel used in the
short sea market at the port for the last ten years. The average
size, though, he says is now towards the upper end of the scale,
whereas in the past there were more vessels in the
2,000–3,000dwt range.
Quayside handling equipment consists of standard luffing
cranes and also several mobile harbour cranes. Productivity
ranges from 200tph to 500tph, depending on the vessel.
“In this respect, we are competitive with other ports in the
region. We have to be because, while most of the dry bulks we
handle would logically flow through Aalborg, other traffic could
choose to enter Denmark via several ports, so we have to offer
good prices and service to retain it here,” says Rosenbeck, who
adds that the overall market for dry bulk is relatively stable.
The port does have a rail link, but virtually all dry bulk
movements are today undertaken by road.
In terms of adding value to bulks passing through the port,
storage facilities for wood pellets are offered and the port
authority also offers to manage the transport chain on behalf of
the end user. Rosenbeck says that this is an every day