With a total transshipment of just under 3 million passenger cars per year, Zeebrugge is one of the largest car transshipment ports in the world. Ships from all over the world unload tens of thousands of cars of all makes every week. These are prepared for dealers at specialized terminals or shipped further to other ports. For Tesla, for example, Zeebrugge is the import port for the European market.
But there is a problem. As a result of the corona crisis, the majority of car dealerships are closed and cars are hardly ever sold. As a result, the supply to the end customer has come to a standstill. The port of Zeebrugge is therefore full of new cars that have nowhere to go.
“Except for Russia and Scandinavia, almost no cars leave from our terminal,” says CEO Marc Adriansens of International Car Operators. ICO – daughter of the Japanese Nippon Yusen Kaisha – operates the largest car terminal in the world in Zeebrugge. 2.3 million cars pass through here every year. Eighteen international shipping companies supply cars from 45 different brands every day.
“Now, almost 100,000 cars are parked here at our terminal,” says Adriansens. ‘We still have room for 10,000 extra cars, but then we are full. The problem is that we expect at least 30,000 cars from Asia in the next two weeks. So we have to look for extra space. ‘
Nearly 100,000 cars are now parked at our terminal. But soon we’ll be full.
The Zeebrugge port authority allows ICO to temporarily use 9 hectares of wasteland in the inner harbor to station cars. But those grounds are not paved. Adriansens: ‘We start with emergency surfacing on 1 hectare. It is a test. The intention is to expand gradually. We must first get permission from the brands to park their cars there. But if the corona crisis continues for some time, we think we need an extra 20 hectares. ‘
Car storage on the ship
Adriansens fears that it will take until July before the storage problem is solved and the entire logistics car flow more or less returns to its normal level. ‘This expansion of capacity and the pavement of the sites will certainly cost us a lot of money. Hopefully we can recuperate an important part from our customers. ” Adriansens expects activity at the terminal to drop to a third between April and July.
If the parking problem is not solved in time, there is a chance that the car companies will drop cars destined for Zeebrugge in other ports. It is also being considered to anchor car ships in the port and temporarily use them as car storage space. Ships already sail from Asia to Europe at half strength and, to save time, they choose a longer route along the Cape of Good Hope instead of via the Suez Canal.
Fortunately, Zeebrugge has no shortage of sites. ‘We still have 50 hectares available in our logistics zone in the inner port,’ says Rik Goetinck, the top man at the port of Zeebrugge. “But it is also unpaved.” Goetinck does not rule out the possibility that other transshipment companies such as P&O or C.Ro will also have parking problems in the long term. ‘Initially, parking problems had also arisen for trucks and trailers, but we solved that by making better use of the existing spaces. In extreme need we can still divert to the port of Ostend. ”
ICO also has a (small) car terminal in the port of Antwerp. There are no parking problems there.