Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions invests in resources for breakbulk

Breakbulk makes up one quarter of its worldwide business for Wallenius Wilhelmsen, and Zeebrugge is the biggest terminal in this ro/ro group's worldwide network. "The headquarters believe in growth for breakbulk," says Emmanuel Van Damme.

In the summer of 2019 Emmanuel Van Damme left the Port Authority's marketing department and returned to the private sector as general manager of the Zeebrugge terminal for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions, the logistics division of the Swedish-Norwegian ro/ro operator. Although no soothsayer could have predicted the virus pandemic that would bring so much tension to his first year at work there, this experienced manager and trained lawyer nevertheless expected an exciting job.

"This is the biggest terminal owned by our worldwide group, both in terms of area – 61 hectares and another 39 hectares of expansion in prospect – and in terms of the range of activities," says Van Damme. "Including the dock workers and the 36 hectare site that we manage for Toyota, we employ nearly 600 people here. In 2018 and again in 2018 they handled 280,000 units – cars, breakbulk and high & heavy – both technically and administratively."

Breakbulk has doubled

Zeebrugge is a heavyweight in the Wallenius Wilhelmsen network, and that is saying something. The Swedish-Norwegian combination is a market leader, with 9,500 office workers and another 9,500 operatives in 29 countries. Last year it generated a turnover of 3.3 billion euros, in four main areas, namely the Ocean shipping division with 130 or so ro/ro carriers; the Solutions logistics division with 13 port terminals and 72 processing centres; the ARC shipping company specialising in US government contracts; and finally the Eukor shipping company with more than 70 pure car and truck carriers (PCTCs) in joint ownership with the Korean carmakers Kia and Hyundai.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions takes care of the entire chain, from reception or shipping to technical processing, administration, customs clearance and distribution. "Cars along with high & heavy make up three quarters of the activities. There is also a significant proportion of breakbulk. In 2019 the Zeebrugge terminal handled 130,000 tonnes of pure breakbulk, double the amount five years previously. So the terminal really is a core business for us, which furthermore has lots of growth potential. In 2019 the Wallenius Wilhelmsen group handled 2.9 million cubic metres of breakbulk worldwide."

Mobile crane can lift 270 tonnes

The biggest advantage of the Zeebrugge terminal is its infrastructure. "Over the past ten years we have invested more than 4 million euros here in breakbulk handling facilities. We have large areas for sterilising consignments by heating or fumigation to kill harmful organisms. In May last year we opened our equipment processing centre (EPC) for heavy machinery. We also invest heavily in IT, including our EDI (electronic data interchange) platforms. Digitisation is relatively new in breakbulk, but it opens up great opportunities. But the cherry on the cake is the second mobile crane that we acquired in February. The telescopic Liebherr LTM 1750-9.1 weighs 750 tonnes and can lift up to 270 tonnes. Our intention is to make this crane also available to other companies, so that it represents a gain for the entire port."

The heavy lifter is no superfluous luxury, as ships are getting ever larger and carrying ever heavier loads. "These can be up to 6.1 m high, 50 m long and weigh up to 400 tonnes, ranging from machine components to transformers weighing more than 170 tonnes, sailing yachts, steel ... you name it. Last winter we shipped the largest crane in the world to the USA, for Sarens. The 1,946 tonne load was broken down into sections with a combined volume of nearly 4,000 cubic metres. We put as much freight as possible on wheels, but we are also lifting more and more cargo onto barges or seagoing ships."

People make the port

Then there is the most important factor of all, namely skilled people. "For breakbulk especially, which is always customised, teamwork is essential. I often say that people make the port. This terminal is characterised by a young, enthusiastic, can-do mentality. The headquarters continues to invest in Zeebrugge, strong in the belief that the abilities of our people offer added value. For example, construction of the equipment processing centre led to an increase in volumes and will attract new customers. Specifically for breakbulk, in Zeebrugge and Antwerp we have nearly 20 specialists that form an 'architects team' for each job, usually in collaboration with international colleagues. In addition we have specially trained dock workers for among other things the new crane. Thanks to the range of interesting jobs we are able to attract and retain good people."

In this year of coronavirus, breakbulk held up well initially but since June there has been a slight decline, according to Van Damme. "We don't expect any big drop in the short term, because there are still lots of investment projects running. But it's anyone's guess how the volumes will look in one year from now. On the other hand we see an increase in barge handling, and we're picking up signals about new possibilities in the offshore wind industry."


Roel Jacobus

These are the other articles in the dossier ‘Breakbulk’:
Breakbulk revival in Antwerp: preface to all the stories
Catrien Scheers: “Covid-19 will never undermine my faith in breakbulk”
Zimmer Staal operating at full capacity at terminal operator Euroports
Rollit Cargo anticipates growth in wind turbine market
Victrol carries bridges, machines and parts for offshore wind farms
Corona crisis confirms need for digital breakbulk platform
Biggest lifting job in Port of Antwerp in many years by Mammoet
Muriel Marquet (HSL): “Breakbulk is our core business”
Rail&Sea: "Big increase in combined breakbulk and container"
CJ-ICM Logistics: “We do the craziest things”
Oldest port company Stukwerkers sees the sector changing rapidly
Van der Vlist Belgium expands its European hub at Zeebrugge
Jacques Vandermeiren: “Antwerp and breakbulk, a hole-in-one”