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Yilport targets growth through short-sea, feeder operations

With much of the attention of the international container shipping industry on gateway ports and congestion problems they’re experiencing in handling mega-ships, a Turkish port operator sees opportunity elsewhere.

Yilport Holding this year took control of two container terminals in Scandinavia as part of a declared North Europe expansion plan. Located in Oslo, Norway, and Gävle, Sweden, the facilities cater to short-sea and feeder services exclusively. Yilport took over Gävle in April, and won a 20-year concession to operate Oslo’s container terminal in July. It is serving this market where Yilport Holding sees an opportunity, CEO Sean R. Pierce said. “We see new opportunities in the future where Oslo, Gävle and some of the other ports will continue to see business increase, not decrease,” Pierce said in an interview with JOC.com.

It’s a big picture trend Pierce has his eye on. With an increasing number of mega-ships making fewer port calls, feeder services and the ports they serve are set to grow in importance. Reflecting this trend, the number of unique port-to-port combinations in the Asia-Europe trade has fallen 10 percent since 2012, according to SeaIntel Maritime Analysis. The number of port pairs served by the G6 Alliance declined 33 percent during the same period. The largest ports in given regions, such as Los Angeles-Long Beach on the North American West Coast, and Tokyo within Japan, are gaining market share as big ships concentrate their calls at fewer ports.

Though some shippers may chafe at their cargo being transshipped, fewer port calls will mean more transshipments, more feeder services, and more opportunity for smaller ports that cater to this market. In certain regions including in northern Europe, it will be more efficient to move cargo to or from a port handling the big ships via short-sea or feeder services instead of over land via rail or truck. Ports that lose long-distance services may seek to replace that business by luring short-sea and feeder services from transshipment hubs.

Furthermore, some ports can’t be deepened because of various forms of restrictions, meaning they never will be in the game of attracting business from mega-ships. And those may also see an opportunity to grow their volumes through feeder services and short-sea operations.

new class of container ship is built designed for difficult navigation areas such as the Bosporus Straits, or the jagged coasts of the Scandinavian peninsula. These ships are big themselves, they can carry 9,400 to 10,900 20-foot-equivalent units, or TEUs, sailing without the limitations on the ports they may possibly call that define mega-ships.

Pierce cites these new ships and the fact that much of the cargo in the region still moves by road and rail as motivations behind Yilport’s Scandinavian expansion.

Although other terminal operators “have been purely focused on just handling the containers, on and off the ships, in and out the gate,” he said, “what we’re focused on is how can we integrate, further extend into the hinterland with our services that build volume.”

He contends that as part of an industrial consortium focused on construction, real estate and commodities, called the Yildirim Group of Companies, Yilport can bring expertise and resource to bear on its port projects.

For example, at Gävle, Yilport will open the Stockholm Nord Intermodal Terminal in 2015. The facility will be equipped to efficiently transfer containers from rail to ship and vice versa, with the hope of attracting more cargo off the roads.

Yilport hopes to extend its services and build volume through “creating balanced trade — creating solutions so that the lines enjoy more balanced trade with imports and exports,” Pierce said.

Putting empty containers to use is one way to attack carriers’ problem of trade imbalances. “We look at it and say, how can we solve your problem of these empties and turn them into export full containers? That’s something we do very, very well,” Pierce said.

For example, Yilport’s Marmara feeder service at the Port of Gebze, Turkey, offers a steep discount to shippers that use empties for exports of steel.

Pierce believes that achieving synergies like the steel example, and Yilport’s reliance on high levels of automation in its port operations will fuel the company’s continued growth and allow it to become a Top 10 global terminal operator by 2025 by adding two to three ports per year to its portfolio.

Istanbul-based Yilport Holding was established in 2012 to manage the port portfolio of the Yildirim Group of Companies. Yildirim Holding has a 24 percent stake in CMA CGM. Yilport operates three multipurpose ports in Turkey, in addition to a container terminal on Malta.