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Is there life after coal for ‘black’ terminals?

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Dry Bulk,

As the governments of western European countries have committed themselves to reducing CO2 emissions, coal-fired power plants will gradually disappear. Renewables will gradually become the most important source of energy and coal-fired power plants will become obsolete. Of course, there will still be metallurgical coal and coke used for the furnaces in the steel industry, but as the steel industry faces tough competition from China, the expectation is that also this market will decrease in North western Europe. So what will happen to the so-called ‘black’ coal terminals that used to live from storage and transshipment of the black gold? Will they disappear, or will they be able to find a way out…?

OVET, a stevedore company specialising in the storage and transshipment of dry bulk has had to adapt its business model in the wake of the changing shipping environment. Following the closure of both the company’s metallurgical coal factory in Sluisiki and its terminal in Vlissingen due to tough competition from China, and governmental regulations regarding CO2, the company realised it had to expand its business offering.

Coping with a changing environment

Firstly, in order to survive in the current climate, companies must have multiple business offerings. For example, OVET now offers extra services throughout the whole logistics chain. This means that the company does not only discharge incoming sea vessels, but also offers the service to charter the vessel. Furthermore, the company can not only re-load the barges and trains, but can also arrange the whole barging and railway process from loading until discharging at the final destination, even when there is trucking needed in between.

Secondly, the company is not only focused on so-called ‘black’ products. Of course, the handling of solid fuels is still its core business, however, the company is increasingly focusing on handling other products, such as biomass, fertilizers, aggregates, minerals and even agri-bulk. As the company is GMP certified and also works confirm the GMP regulations, she handles more and more ‘white’ products such as agricultural products, minerals and aggregates. Handling these kinds of products, requires substantial investment in order to create a different method of storage.

Furthermore, in order to succeed, companies must have the flexibility to operate in several locations. With its four floating cranes, the company can not only perform transshipments at one of its terminals, but also on the River Scheldt, in Ghent and even in Antwerp. The floating cranes can be moved wherever they are needed. Not only for the transshipment of dry bulk, but also for the handling of break-bulk, containers and special lifting projects.

Another way in which a company can distinguish itself is by offering value added services. For example, OVET offers activities such as screening, crushing, blending and de-ironing of different kinds of solid fuels.

Lastly, the company has proven with several projects, that it can offer custom made solutions. Together with the client, the company examines the best way to handle the product.

In short, companies can cope with the challenges of the current low price environment by:

  • Offering a total service package (vertical integration).
  • Handling different kinds of dry bulk products and make the required investments.
  • Working with floating cranes in order to work flexible on different locations.
  • Offering added value activities.

There is indeed a future for ‘black’ terminals, but only when they accept their situation and act accordingly.

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