Dunkirk eyes container traffic growth as new service establishes direct Asia link

Dunkerque Port

The Port of Dunkirk is eyeing growth in its container traffic as a new service establishes a direct link with Asia. Effective 1 January 2015, the Ocean Three alliance (CMA CGM, China Shipping Container Lines and the United Arab Shipping Company) is offering the only direct route to the French Channel port from Chinese ports such as Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai and Yantian, as well as other key Asian and Middle Eastern ports including Busan, Kelang, Beirut and Jeddah and this on a weekly basis.

“Ocean Three’s service from Asia will improve transit times by seven days compared to existing ex-Asia services into Dunkirk,” underlines Dunkirk's port CEO, Stéphane Raison.

The prospect of adding a further 150,000 teu to Dunkirk's annual throughput - which is expected to total between 320,000 and 330,000 teu in 2014 – by 2018 sees the port planning the expansion of its box terminal over the next three years.

“The expansion and modernisation of our container terminal will represent an investment of around €65 million,” says Raison. “We currently have 1,200 metres of quayside at the terminal of which only 400 metres is 16.5 metres draught, offering a single berth. Development work focuses on 1,000 metres of quayside at 18-metre draught which will enable us to offer two berths to accommodate the biggest container ships such as the Triple E class.”

The investment programme also makes provision to improve safety measures at the entrance of the container terminal, with notably a widening of the swinging basin (€20 million) and a rail infrastructure upgrade at the port totalling €15 million.

“Dunkirk is France's leading port for rail-borne freight, largely in the form of bulk shipments and steel products. Out of our estimated global traffic of 46 million tonnes in 2014, rail transport will have accounted for 13 million tonnes.

“But only 5% of the container traffic handled at Dunkirk arrives or leaves the port by train So there is a considerable potential for growth in our railfreight offering. But you must have the volume in order to grow and with the Ocean Three service we now have the potential to generate the necessary volume,” argues Raison.

“We have the infrastructure to offer efficient and regular intermodal services from Dunkirk in the form of both rail and barge shuttles and this is a plus point that shouldn't be underestimated."

The challenge in Raison's words, is the need to re-conquer our hinterland and reverse the process of the vast majority of container traffic by-passing Dunkirk and escaping to Antwerp and Rotterdam.

“We have to give shippers a reason to use our port and a very persuasive factor in our favour is the launch of the Ocean Three service. They can take advantage of transit times from Asia which are one and half days shorter than services through Antwerp.”

While Ocean Three is Dunkirk's trump card in increasing box traffic, the attractiveness and the competitiveness of the port, in relation to its foreign neighbours, will be further enhanced from 1 January 2015 when shippers will no longer be obliged to pay a VAT charge on goods through Dunkirk thanks to a fiscal reform measure in France.

“This will put us on an equivalent VAT footing with Antwerp giving shippers in northern France no reason to look anywhere else but to the 'natural' port of entry for their goods - Dunkirk.”

Raison also believes that Dunkirk's status as a European Union-accredited phytosanitary or veterinary inspection post could also come to the fore, with the Ocean Three service driving demand for ex-Asia temperature-controlled freight through the port. “It's a positive outlook for Dunkirk's container traffic and let's not forget that we have MSC's import and export feeder services carrying boxes too.

“Our rail transport capability will also hold us in good stead at a time when road congestion in the proximity of ports has become a real issue and allow us to contribute to sustainable freight transport growth too,” Raison adds.

Source: Lloyd's Loading List

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