Ports & Terminals

Rotterdam Terminal Exec says Chinese cranes pose no security threat when using precautions

There is no reason to fear a security threat from Chinese-built ship-to-shore cranes as long as precautions are used to block access to terminal operations, according to Cees Van Pelt, Senior Project Manager, Rotterdam Shortsea Terminals.

On May 7th, Van Pelt spoke to the Propeller Club of Northern California (PCNC) where he discussed the Chinese-built ZPMC ship-to-shore cranes that RST employs loading and unloading feeder-ships at its Rotterdam terminal in the Netherlands.

Van Pelt said the assertion by ZPMC (Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries) that ‘Through our main office in Shanghai, you can monitor all the cranes’ is correct but only after the Port/Owner of the crane has given permission to connect the cranes to (the) ZPMC support network.”

A trouble-shooting function provided by ZPMC is similar to what is offered with cranes sold by European crane builders such as Kalmar and Konecranes, both based in Finland.

In all cases, the crane builders “…can give support at a distance by remote operation. We have now a similar connection with Kalmar for our new hybrid straddle carrier, so they can see our operation data from the machine but not TOS (Terminal Operating System) related. If there is a problem, then they can solve it, but for this connection, we took several precautions in having a safe connection via the internet by having so-called stepstone servers and more to avoid uncontrolled access.”

A Terminal Operating System, or TOS, aims to control the movement and storage of various types of containers deployed around a marine terminal.

However, by utilizing the crane maker’s trouble-shooting function there is always the transmission of data, Van Pelt admitted: “What we have done is we built … the steel in China and we have our own integrator here in Holland, which is using Siemens components, building its own software and also doing the installation (for the Terminal Operating System) … On the other hand, Siemens is using components from all over the world and is also producing components into China itself. The discussion about ‘can they be monitored from China’ is in the case of RST a bit less … they can be monitored by ZPMC when they offer you … customer … support … And from time to time, you have problems. And what will happen is that if there is a problem and a customer is then asking, in this case … can you help me out?”

Security Concerns

On February 29th, 2024, House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green and Mike Gallagher, Chair of the House Select Committee on China, wrote a letter to ZPMC executives stating: “The Committees have discovered that ZPMC technicians, engineers, or other personnel at ZPMC’s PRC-based fabrication sites, have installed certain components, including cellular modems, onto U.S.-bound STS (ship to shore) cranes and other onshore maritime infrastructure. These components do not contribute to the operation of the STS cranes or maritime infrastructure and are not part of any existing contract between ZPMC and the receiving U.S. maritime port.”

ZPMC has responded: “The cranes provided by Zhenhua Heavy Industries do not pose a cybersecurity risk to any ports.”

The concerns about security have led to an initiative by the Biden Administration to support a US-based manufacturing capacity for ship to shore cranes so as to reduce dependence on Chinese-built cranes at U.S. ports. Currently, Chinese built cranes account for an estimated 80% crane capacity at U.S. ports.

Van Pelt said there has been an increase of more than 45% in the price of cranes manufactured in China since 2018 and so RST is also looking for quotes from Dutch and other European contractors: “We see a couple of Dutch initiatives who are coming on the market as … construction companies with a bit of higher technology … and the vision to become a crane builder. I have now asked for a quotation for a stacking crane ... in the yard. If we select a Dutch builder and we experience that one of them can build a good crane, then I'm quite willing to also build an STS (ship-to-shore crane) waterside with the wide-span crane we use at RST. But first I need to see how they can build the land crane.”

He emphasized the reason for moving away from only sourcing from China was price and not security-related: “It's not because I'm afraid of the China crane… because our electrical installation is all the time … coming from Holland with the Chinese built cranes. The systems integrator TES is working with … overall Siemens components. TES is doing the design, the software … The electrical installation is still … built here in Holland.”

RST Developments

In other developments, Van Pelt said: RST pioneered the wide-boom ship-to-shore crane design that unloads containers from ships waterside onto stacks under the crane boom (see illustration). Feeder ship links from RST provide container services to the U.K., Ireland, and other Western European countries. Trucks average entering and leaving RST in 45 minutes. RST’s system so efficiently loads and unloads containers that its container processing rivals US ports such as Oakland (which posted 2,065,709 TEUs in 2023).

RST has a capacity to process nearly 2 million TEUs (twenty-foot container units) “so we have still the capacity to grow but at the moment, we are handling nearly 1.3 million TEUs and that is mainly because of the Russia war with Ukraine which has affected us quite a lot. We are climbing a bit up … We employ 350 people.”

RST plans to meet zero-emission goals by powering cargo-handling equipment such as reach stackers and straddle carriers with hydrogen: “The problem is hydrogen is three times more expensive than diesel and while government subsidies are helping to bring the cost of hydrogen down, the key is investing in improved delivery infrastructure and reduce transportation and handling. So (we plan) building our own facility for making hydrogen and then making it scalable. There is a grant from the EU (European Union) … I have good hope that in the third quarter of 2024 we can start up with the reach stacker on hydrogen. As soon as the first one is running, then I expect that soon more will follow.”

RST moves 5%-10% of “our incoming containers or outgoing containers going by barge to Holland, Germany and other countries.”

It takes “an average of 45 minutes from the time a truck driver arrives at the terminal until the container is loaded or unloaded and the driver departs. Face recognition is used to identify arriving drivers … About 65% of our containers go by truck.”

RST does not have on-dock rail but “we have a … train terminal in the back of RST which is running rail service to Italy, Germany and … Poland which is accommodating 25% of all our traffic.” To speed container transfers of rail containers to and from the rail line, RST utilizes a system where one tractor pulls four-wheeled containers.

There is a growing problem hiring younger workers, especially in the electrical and mechanical engineering fields. As a result, RST is facing a shortfall of workers.

Van Pelt started as a mechanical engineer with RST and was promoted to General Manager of the Technical Department & Projects. He is now Senior Project Manager for Current Projects.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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