The Antwerp family firm of Victrol is the only one in Antwerp with its own fleet of ro/ro pontoons, used to carry large, indivisible loads for the offshore wind industry, heavy machinery and bridge sections for among others the Albert canal.
Victrol which last year celebrated its 50th anniversary is the only operator in its field in Belgium with ro/ro pontoons. "In the Netherlands there are several such companies," explains Jan-Andries Arts, project manager of the Ro/Ro & Heavy department at Victrol. "We initially started with relatively small pontoons but in 2013 we decided to purchase larger, sea-going units. This enabled us to make the transition to the types of project that we do now, focusing mainly on western Europe. Most jobs are by inland waterway in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, but we also do sea transport. We're currently busy with a project in Ireland, but our area of operations also includes Scandinavia and in fact the whole North Sea region."
"At the moment we're looking in particular at the renewable energy market, i.e. offshore wind farms. All the foundations and wind turbine parts have to be carried somehow. It's a big market at the moment. We mainly work on behalf of the foundation builders. At the moment we're doing transport for the Triton Knoll offshore project. We have carried the subsections to Hoboken for a number of offshore high-voltage substations that are being built there. We have deliberately limited the maximum pontoon width to less than 23 metres so that they can pass through the locks. The North Sea pontoons are wider and so cannot go everywhere. Furthermore there are already quite a few players active in this market so there is no requirement for additional capacity," says Arts.
Bridges over the Albert canal
Victrol is also using its pontoons for the construction of new bridges over among others the Albert canal. "The new bridges are currently being built at a high rate. With our pontoons we can carry very large bridge sections to the locations in one go. The bridges are then assembled on the spot and laid in place all-in-one using a pontoon. This also keeps the impact on the environment to a minimum during construction of the bridge. In most cases we work under contract from heavy lift operators such as Sarens, Mammoet or Aertessen. However, we can deliver a full package, from transport to cranes and ro/ro."
Victrol also hopes to pick up work from the many large investments being made in the Antwerp chemical cluster. "We're looking out for expansion projects such as those being carried out by Borealis, Ineos and BASF. There will be a significant fraction of work there which we as an Antwerp-based company with a strong local presence hope to support."
"In the case of pontoons it's not so much the load capacity that counts but the dimensions of the load. A lot depends on how the load looks: height, width, centre of gravity, and whether it is static or ro/ro. People sometimes think – incorrectly – that we're only interested in large loads, but we also carry smaller items. For example, we also focus on the segment of earth-moving equipment and trailers. Everybody's talking about multimodal nowadays, but that's something we've being doing for years without using that particular buzzword. We do a lot of transport of heavy machinery such as bulldozers, stackers and straddle carriers, from one terminal to another. Recently we carried a large excavator from Gent to Genk," Arts recalls.
When it comes to multimodal mobility Victrol also does trailer transport. "We do a lot of that, but it remains difficult because of among other things the last mile. The pontoon has to be loaded and unloaded at a quay, but then you still have to get to the storage site or the processing unit. There are still a lot of bottlenecks that we have been unable to eliminate, unfortunately. One of these is personnel. It's getting more and more difficult to find good, permanent personnel, especially for barge transport."
Victrol has a fleet of seven ro/ro pontoons. "The biggest is 90 by 22 metres and the smallest – ro/ro pontoon 3 – is a modular pontoon consisting of a number of 'containers' that can be connected together in combinations of 40', alongside one another, lengthways etc. Ro/ro pontoons 6 and 7 are respectively in Barcelona and Tenerife at the moment, where they are being used as service pontoons for LNG bunkering," Arts explains. At the moment there are no plans to expand the fleet. "We are contractors. As soon as we see an opportunity, we take it. There has to be a reason to invest. Currently we're mainly expanding in tanker ship operation. There are more opportunities in this area at the current time. Our strong point is that we are not such a big organisation, so we can react very quickly and flexibly. All our pontoons are ready for use at any time, with internal pump systems and bow thrusters enabling them to manoeuvre independently. We see that as a great advantage, enabling us to react to last-minute requests," Arts concludes.
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Rollit Cargo anticipates growth in wind turbine market
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Biggest lifting job in Port of Antwerp in many years by Mammoet
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Rail&Sea: "Big increase in combined breakbulk and container"
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Jacques Vandermeiren: “Antwerp and breakbulk, a hole-in-one”