Ports Update

by Emily Wilson
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Melbourne's new export terminal combines art with functionality

Few export grain terminals would be regarded as works of art, but a group of Australian bulk grain handlers set out to change that perception. A new U.S.$21.5- million grain export terminal that began operations recently at the Port of Melbourne also is the backdrop for an urban art project.

Built by Australian Bulk Alliance Pty. Ltd. — a joint venture of Grainco Australia Ltd., Queensland, and South Australian Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd., Adelaide — and AWB Limited, the country's monopoly export seller of wheat, the facility is the most recent capital investment in grain handling in Australia in a decade. Annual export and domestic throughput capacity is 1 million tonnes and storage capacity totals 48,000 tonnes. The terminal is operated by Globex International, the port operating subsidiary of Grainco Australia Ltd.

New efficiencies in grain handling and environment management were incorporated into the design, including revolutionary chute loading technology that reduces degradation and breakage. Receival points are fully enclosed and state-of-the-art suppression and collection systems were installed to reduce dust.

Dave Woodall, chairman of Australian Bulk Alliance, said the terminal is expected to deliver huge cost benefits to Australian wheat growers, especially those in Victoria and southern New South Wales where the company already has substantially invested in regional infrastructure for moving grain. These country grain receival sites, which are linked by rail to the new port terminal, represent a new, more efficient, "least cost" pathway for export grain, Mr. Woodall said. Wheat should account for about one-third of total exports.

The port terminal, located in the heart of the city's industrial precinct at F-Appleton Dock in the Port of Melbourne, also is recognized as "an aesthetically stunning educational and cultural icon for Melbourne," Mr. Woodall added.

Through the use of a unique lighting installation, the facility's 20 grain silos at night are transformed into artwork that symbolically depicts the meeting of Melbourne's four main waterways: Port Phillip Bay, the Yarra River, the Maribynong River and the Moonee Ponds Creek.

Commissioned by Australian Bulk Alliance and created by local artists Glenn Romanis and Megan Evans, the art project, entitled "Confluence: A meeting of waters," utilizes animated projection of colored lights onto the silos and features the use of anamorphic perspective, which distorts the image as the viewer moves.

Mr. Romanis said the depiction of the meeting of the waterways was symbolic of the grain terminal's purpose. "The three main estuaries bring water from the north, west and east to the mouth of the bay in the south," he said. "These waterways were trade routes used by the Wurrundjeri people for thousands of years and are still used for trade today. The new terminal is the junction of the flow of grain from farms in the north, west and east, which then leaves Australian shores through Port Phillip Bay to feed the world."

• Co-operative Bulk Handling, which handles more than one-third of Australia's grain production and about 95% of Western Australia's grain, has four export terminals — Albany, Esperance, Geraldton and Kwinana — with a combined storage capacity of over 15 million tonnes. The Esperance terminal is currently being upgraded. Handling rates and efficiencies have been significantly improved, and the ship loading rate was boosted to 2,500 tph. Silo capacity was expanded by another 60,000 tonnes. A new depot with 290,000 tonnes storage was added last year, bringing Esperance's total storage capacity to nearly 805,000 tonnes.

• Under a government privatization program, several ports are for sale in southern Australia. The ports of Adelaide, Giles, Klein, Lincoln, Pirie, Thevenard and Wallaroo — many of them grain ports — are being offered as a combined package. The asking price of U.S. $107 million includes a 99-year lease as well as the wharves, buildings and equipment. The government hopes to find a buyer by the end of the year.


Flour, feed mills boost grain volumes at Vietnam port

Major flour and feed mill projects in Vietnam are beginning to boost grain imports through the Port of Baria Serece (Phu My Port). The port facility, licensed in 1999, primarily handles soybean meal and corn for nearby feed mills, said Richard Szuflak, general manager.

Grain import volumes in 1999 were expected to be slightly higher than 100,000 tonnes.

"Some major feed mill and flour mill projects are underway less than 10 kilometers from our port," Mr. Szuflak said. "In the next two years, we expect the volumes of soybean meal, corn and wheat to be much more relevant."

With a minimum 12-meter draft, Baria Serece is the only port in Vietnam that has berths big enough for Panamax-size bulk grain vessels. A quay extension was completed last year, lengthening the quay from 132 meters to 300 meters. The discharge rate is 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes per day.

The facility in 2000 received permission from the government to operate bonded warehouses at the port.

The first expansion phase at Baria Serece was completed in 1999 and included construction of a 2,500-square-meter covered warehouse as well as a 5,000-square-meter storage area and a dedicated 60-tonne weighbridge for trucks. The second phase, completed this year, included two bulk warehouses with combined capacity of 60,000 tonnes. Both warehouses are linked with the quay by a covered conveyor system with a nominal capacity of 350 tph.

"That potential will allow traders and producers to use our warehouses for storage of cargo in the country without quota application," Mr. Szuflak said.

Baria Serece also is licensed to re-export cargoes. "We envisage the possibility to receive bulk commodities originating from a given country, bag them in Vietnam and ship the total of the bagged commodities to another country," Mr. Szuflak said. "In this way, our customers can benefit of our nautical capabilities as well as cheap labor costs."

• The Philippine Ports Authority has earmarked about U.S.$610 million for construction of new ports and upgrades at existing ones. Asian Terminal Inc., the Philippines' largest port operator, said it will invest $300 million in its terminal, which handles about 40% of the country's cargo throughput. Mariveles, the first land-based, multi-user bulk grain terminal, will spend about $8 million for an expansion that will include warehouses, a second ship and barge unloading facility and a dust extraction system.


EuroPort grain terminal battling to stay afloat

Only a few years ago, the idea of building a U.S.$77-million, state-of-the-art, deep water bulk grain terminal in Poland with an annual handling capacity of 3 million tonnes seemed like a "can't miss" scenario. Especially to Saskatch-ewan Wheat Pool, Canada's leading agribusiness company, which viewed the market in Eastern Europe — especially the countries in the former Soviet Union — as being ripe for Canadian and U.S. grain and feedstuffs.

Armed with financing commitments from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Wheat Pool and its partners began construction on the EuroPort terminal in early 1999.

This past May, the Pool bailed out of the project, blaming the European Bank for changing "the economics of the project." The bank slashed its financing from $55 million to $38 million on the basis of revised study that revealed that changing market conditions, and asked the partners for additional equity contributions and higher operating support. In the end, the Wheat Pool — suffering its own financial problems at home with a dramatic drop in share price — sold its 53% stake in the project for a huge loss to fellow Canadian partner Strait Crossing Group Ltd., the construction company for the project, for U.S.$7 million.

"The original assumptions were probably too optimistic, and it was difficult to get the project off the ground," one observer said.

Construction is now at a standstill and EuroPort's future is in the balance.

"For the Port of Gdansk this means that a major attempt to reduce dependence on coal and ore — its staple diet for decades — has turned sour," one report said. Cargo volumes at the port in 1999 were down 15.2% from the previous year, although those volumes began to stabilize in the first half of 2000.

Poland would like to see the EuroPort project go forward, as it will upgrade the country's transportation infrastructure — significant for E.U. accession — and lower transportation costs for basic agricultural commodities.

• A high level of grain traffic – nearly 9 million tonnes – and sustained growth in general cargo are the main factors behind an almost 14% rise in traffic through the Port of Rouen, France, in 1999, port officials said. "This is the highest rate of growth of any major French port," a spokesperson said. A total of 24 million tonnes of cargo was shipped through Rouen last year. The increase in traffic stems from the radical change in operating conditions since Rouen's successful dock labor reform in 1992, officials said.

• Maas Silo, which provides special agribulk handling services at the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, has secured new wheat and maize handling business that expects to bring in an extra 120,000 to 180,000 tonnes of grain into port annually. Such trades were formerly shipped through the Port of Ant-werp and other ports, officials said. Mass Silo, a joint venture between Maashaven Silo and the Port of Rotterdam, has about 60,000 tonnes storage capacity for heavy grains, 30,000 tonnes in horizontal storage and a 10,000-cubic-meter tank terminal for edible oils.

• Northern Shipping Service N.V. and Manuport Handling N.V., both active in the handling, bagging and storage of dry bulk commodities at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, have merged. The two companies combined handled about 4.2 million tonnes of dry bulk in 1999. The merger will boost productivity and service through optimal use of capacities, the companies' directors said. The company said its expects a 5% growth in turnover in 2000.

North America

Export facility for Canadian specialty crops opens

Grain is an important commodity at the Port of Vancouver on Canada's Pacific Coast. Only coal tonnage, at 27 million tonnes, surpasses the nearly 11 million tonnes of wheat, barley, canola, flaxseed, oats, rye and other cereals that shipped through the port in 1999.

The six major export grain terminals at the Port of Vancouver — Cascadia, James Richardson International, Pacific Elevators, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, United Grain Growers and Vancouver Wharves — have made significant investments in expanding capacity and upgrading service capabilities, port officials note. Many now have "direct hit" capabilities, allowing rail cars to be unloaded and bulk vessels to be loaded simultaneously. Other recent investments include computerized process control systems, rail car unloading facilities, dust control and grain cleaning systems that increase productivity and improve environmental conditions.

The smallest of the export facilities, Vancouver Wharves, once primarily a potash handler, recently has positioned itself for the growth in specialty crops. "Canadian farmers want options that don't involve the Canadian Wheat Board," one observer said. The C.W.B. is Canada's single-desk seller of wheat and barley, but does not handle specialty crops.

The terminal's dry-bulk area was modernized into a dedicated agri-facility that offers fast turnaround, specialized storage and gentle handling of such fragile products as peas, malt and feed products and identity-preserved grains. Operations began in March, with the bulk of exports bound for Asia, India and Pakistan.

"There are no comparable facilities in North America," said Susan Forbes, marketing manager of Vancouver Wharves, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian stevedoring company BCR Marine.

The U.S.$110-million facility (about half of which is dedicated for handling sulfur) can handle about 3 million tonnes of specialty grains annually, and includes a dedicated berth for bulk grain vessels. A circular, multi-loop track for rail cars will accommodate a 104-unit train without having to break the train apart.

A rail car indexer moves cars around the track and into the enclosed track shed, where cars are unloaded one at a time into two hoppers. Up to 70 cars can be unloaded per shift. As an additional safety feature, an integrated camera/car-door opener automatically open rail cars.

Totally enclosed 48-inch variable- speed conveyor belts ride on a layer of air — instead of rollers — for smooth, gentle handling of grains; there are no bucket elevators anywhere in the system. The facility has surge storage capacity of 30,000 tonnes initially; most of the bin space is leased ahead of time.

A 12.5-meter berth depth accommodates deep draft, Panamax-size ships. The ship loader is equipped with a "cascade" chute that flows product into the bottom of the hold for gentle, dust-free loading. Loading capacity is 1,700 tph for wheat. The facility plans to add a second loader as volumes increase.

• The Port of Montreal, Canada, recently completed a new U.S.$1.33-million truck unloading facility for reception of local Quebec corn and soybeans to be exported. The facility is increasingly using quick tests to detect GMOs in soybeans as the demand for non-GMO soybeans in Europe has created a niche market. The facility exported about 700,000 tonnes of wheat in 1999, in addition to 100,000 tonnes of soybeans and 25,000 tonnes of maize. "We are a public facility which permits grain companies who do not own a grain terminal in Eastern Canada or along the St. Lawrence River to export their grain through our facility," said Georges Gagné, terminal director.

• Grain represents about 85% of the commodities handled at Cargill's port terminal at Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, with the remainder in fertilizers (10%) and salt (5%). The facility in 1999 exported about 168,000 tonnes of soybeans, 103,000 tonnes of corn and 83,000 tonnes of wheat. Genetically modified grain has created challenges in identity preservation, the terminal operator said. The company recently purchased a 600-meter-long reclaim belt conveyor from Hi-Roller with a capacity of 15,000 bushels per hour.

• Port Elevator-Brownsville, L.C., at the Port of Brownsville, Texas, U.S., recently added an additional rail unloading pit to unload shuttle trains. The facility primarily handles wheat, grain sorghum and oats. Craig Elkins, vice-president and general manager, said customers are requesting more identity-preserved storage and handling services. The company also is increasingly using e-mail in lieu of faxes in its daily business, he said.

Middle East

Damietta port in Egypt upgrading grain and container facilities

Design studies to extend a grain berth and upgrade the container terminal were recently completed at the Port of Damietta, Egypt. The new grain berth will be extended to 550 meters and will have a water depth of 14.5 meters.

A joint venture formed by the South Korean Samsung Corporation and Egyptian Arab Contractors will implement the project, which is expected to take about 24 months to complete.

At the container terminal, berths are being reinforced to withstand ship-to-shore gantry cranes that lift up to 55 tons. Four existing gantry cranes at the port also were modified to increase lift height and extend reach. Two new container gantry cranes were purchased and the stacking yard area was expanded.

"In order to meet the operational requirements of the increasing number of vessels calling at Damietta port, a new marine services berth has now been developed, and investment has been made in additional service craft," port authorities said. Two new tugs, each with 25 tons towing capacity, were recently acquired.

Other recent improvements to Damietta's port infrastructure include a bunkering station and the paving of 11.5 km of road inside the port. Warehouses totaling 137,000 square meters also were added, and the grain silo capacity was increased to 150,000 tonnes.

An additional 700-tph suction unloader was commissioned. This new equipment, along with two existing units, will boost the discharge capability of the port to around 18,000 tonnes of grain a day, port officials said.