The future is looking bright for Port Esbjerg
A good 100 people attended Port Esbjerg’s Annual Meeting, at which Grimaldi Lines spoke warmly of its collaboration with the port. Management was applauded by the Advisory Board, the mayor spoke of the great opportunities lying ahead for the city, and the Chairman of the Board concluded that the future is looking bright for Port Esbjerg.
On Wednesday, 23 June, just over 100 people met at the Esbjerg concert hall and enjoyed a nice lunch before beginning the Annual Meeting of Port Esbjerg.
The meeting had been moved from the basement hall, where it is usually held, to the ground floor, and the bright room was the perfect setting for the closing remarks of Chairman Flemming N. Enevoldsen:
“The future is looking bright for Port Esbjerg”.
The Chairman concluded that the port has escaped Covid-19 and Brexit with its feathers less ruffled than many other European ports. Port Esbjerg has not suffered a breakdown of or delays in its value chains. Furthermore, political developments have shown that the port has focused on the right business areas. Growth is accelerating in wind and other green energy, and Port Esbjerg has obtained funding for a number of very large projects.
“We have the money and the drive, so now we’re just waiting for official approval of the port’s expansion. Some might say that we’re counting our chickens prematurely, but I say that a good deal of them are about to hatch. It looks exciting,” said Enevoldsen.
Port Esbjerg had made meticulous preparations for Brexit, and RoRo and ferry traffic was satisfactory despite a drop in car imports. Interest in route and capacity expansion remains intact.
“During the past year, we’ve invested DKK 65 million in fixed assets. I believe this shows how confident we are about the future,” said Enevoldsen.Formand Flemming N. Enevoldsen presents the annual report.
”We are in the right place”
Jesper Frost, mayor of Esbjerg, also struck a positive note.
“We’re in the right place. Many towns and cities are envious of us,” he said and went on to talk about the city’s efforts to attract skilled labour and provide sufficient housing.
In 2020, a climate partnership was established between the local utility company, Port Esbjerg and the local authority. According to Frost, this is the way forward if you want to create the energy city of tomorrow.
“The port has already come a long way in its green transition, but the machinery needs to be maintained and expanded. We’re working together on most projects, including a project to use waste heat from energy conversion. Projects like that support our ambition to become a climate-neutral municipality by 2030. The port is a key player in this respect. It takes diversity to be an energy metropole,” Frost said.Mayor of Esbjerg, Jesper Frost, talks about the future of Esbjerg as an energy hub.
Port Esbjerg CEO: We invented new ways of working
Then Dennis Jul Pedersen, CEO of Port Esbjerg, was given the floor.
According to Jul Pedersen, the pandemic had shown that the port can work in new ways and still deliver results.
“Even though we were all under a lot of pressure and wary of the new reality, ship arrivals were handled according to plan,” said Jul Pedersen.
And the port was kept running. Supported by the new bulk terminal, bulk revenue reached a new record. And thanks to a new physical layout and a new terminal and ramp structure, 453 cars were unloaded in just two and a half hours – another record. A new big crane helped as well, and May recorded the highest monthly crane activity ever. The new food control and customs clearance facilities established to ensure continued smooth trading with the UK after Brexit also proved up to the task. Still, Port Esbjerg’s CEO anticipates a greater administrative burden when the UK, if all goes according to plan, implements new control and customs rules at the turn of the year:
“We may face a new situation when customs procedures are fully implemented in 2022. But the past year has shown that we can successfully overcome challenges when we work together with our customers and the public authorities,” he said.CEO Dennis Jul Pedersen talks about a year of steering through the corona crisis.
Inspirational safety collaboration
One thing in particular has inspired other European ports, and that was when a number of companies and the port developed a common safety pledge to enhance safety. Competing companies worked closely together with safety taking priority over rivalry:
“This collaboration was noticed by our European colleagues,” said Jul Pedersen, emphasising that joint planning is key to successful port operations, while port extension, areas, roads, quays and fairway deepening are obviously still on the wish list and remain key priorities.
“Going forward, ports will be facing new requirements, so we need to have the courage to change things, and our efforts to achieve carbon neutrality should be seen in that context,” he said.
Port Esbjerg formed a number of new partnerships during the past year, including with tech giant Honeywell, which enables the port to make the smartest possible energy efficiency investments by measuring its energy consumption.
“This helped us find the right location for our onshore power facility, which may reduce our carbon emissions by 20% when it’s fully up and running,” explained Jul Pedersen.
Concurrently, a new partnership with IT services provider Atos enables the port’s customers to pick the most sustainable transport routes. And the railway is up and running.
“Things are going well and we have some big projects ahead of us, but we mustn’t forget that offshore wind is a very competitive area. The British government is beginning to demand local content, while at the same time a number of British ports are exempt from customs duties. So even though things are looking good, we’re still exposed to competition,” said Jul Pedersen.
Grimaldi on green ships
Grimaldi Lines have docked at the port of Esbjerg on a regular basis since 1998, and Dr Paul Kyprianou, external relations manager at Grimaldi Lines, attended the meeting by video link from Italy.
Headquartered in Naples, Grimaldi Lines have activities at 120 ports in 50 countries, own 130 vessels, have 16,000 employees and generate annual revenue of DKK 20 billion. So it was not just anybody who started by applauding Port Esbjerg for being green pioneers.
“The rest of Europe has got moving, but you’ve been focusing on green initiatives for a long time,” he said.
Dr Kyprianou talked about 2020 being a difficult year because of the pandemic, but noted that the company had gotten through it without laying off staff, even though passenger transport, in particular, took a severe drubbing. But things are now approaching normal.
Like Port Esbjerg, Grimaldi Lines have a green vision, and Dr Kyprianou talked about new ships with giant lithium batteries that will enable ships to call at a port without using a generator. Other innovations in the pipeline are solar panels on ships and silicone paint reducing friction by means of air bubbles around the hull. Electric fork-lift trucks will replace conventional fork-lift trucks at the terminals, and Grimaldi is currently testing whether its scrubber ships can be used as a kind of underwater microplastics vacuum cleaner. Scrubber ships can filter 10,000 tonnes of water and, according to a test project, collect 12,000 microplastic units per day.
“We will be making green investments to the tune of EUR 2 billion in Europe over the next few years, so we’re ambitious,” he said before concluding by applauding Port Esbjerg and stating that he believes Port Esbjerg will sustain its role as a critical European transportation port.External relations manager at Grimaldi Lines, Dr. Paul Kyprianou, talks about the long-standing working relationship witth Port Esbjerg.
How we handled Brexit
Peter Bürgel Nielsen, Director of Trade at the Danish Customs Agency, was also present. He gave an account of the huge efforts that went into preparing for Brexit, including the hiring of 42 additional customs officers, developing IT setups and websites, expanding the Esbjerg customs clearance facilities, sending direct e-mails to 30,000 companies, running information campaigns and setting up a hotline.
All this meant that the Danish Customs Agency and Port Esbjerg were well prepared when the eleventh-hour agreement with the UK was finalised on 24 December, just one week before Brexit.
“Things went well. And this was largely because Port Esbjerg, the companies and we were well prepared for Brexit,” said Bürgel Nielsen.
Praise from the Advisory Board
Port Esbjerg has an Advisory Board consisting of ten members representing the owners and the main business areas and associations at the port. The Advisory Board typically meets four times a year. Søren Stougaard, chairman of the Advisory Board and general manager of Blue Water Shipping, took the chair and thanked the meeting for the opportunity to speak.
“This is the first time that we’ve been given the opportunity to speak at the Annual Meeting, and I think this mirrors really well the strong and close collaboration we have with the port’s management. Our collaboration has grown closer and the flow of information for the port’s users has improved, which is probably helping to provide a greater understanding of the port’s actions,” Stougaard explained.
He mentioned examples of the fruitful collaboration with the port on its strategy process and forecasts for the coming years, which are fortunately optimistic when it comes to growth and investments in the period to 2030.
“We’ve also looked at the Advisory Board members’ commitment to the sustainability agenda. The results are clear. All members are following the market actively or proactively. No one is sitting idly by. This is entirely consistent with Port Esbjerg’s approach,” said Stougaard before going on to talk about the fierce competition that, in his view, is intensifying by the day.
“While we’ve chased luck here in Esbjerg and fortune has smiled upon us within wind energy and other areas, I and my fellow members of the Advisory Board are committed to sustaining this favourable development for the next five or ten years. Port Esbjerg needs to keep up with the high speed of change that we’re all witnessing right now. No matter whether we’re competitors and which industry, association or company we each represent, we all share the same ambition: Sustaining Port Esbjerg’s position as an internationally competitive and attractive port for its users. We must constantly work together to make the cake bigger,” he concluded.
And thus ended the 2020 Annual Meeting, much delayed as a result of Covid-19.
In the words of the Chairman:
“This is the lull before the storm, and the port is solidly positioned and financially strong. We can take on even very large projects. Things are looking good. We’re ready.”