Bulk and breakbulk cargos are paramount to the Port of Amsterdam maintaining its position as one of Europe’s leading hubs. With the new locks due to open in 2019, and an innovative approach, the port looks to be on course.

The Port of Amsterdam is the second largest coal port in Europe.
The Port of Amsterdam is the second largest coal port in Europe.

In some respects the Port of Amsterdam is a hidden gem. A diamond, almost an heirloom, whose worth, while known to some, is a secret to most. It is a European port-city with inland connection that it has leveraged throughout the port’s long history. But despite Amsterdam’s inherent logistic and economic advantages, the port is understandably overshadowed by the neighboring mega-hub, the Port of Rotterdam with an annual container throughput in excess of 12 million TEUs. Nevertheless, Amsterdam is a port on the rise. A new lock complex, regional logistic initiatives, demand multi-purpose handling services and a favorable location, all necessitate attention from international players looking to either import or export to hinterland Europe and beyond.

The Port of Amsterdam, located in the Netherlands, northwest along the banks of the North Sea Canal and the IJsselmeer, and by virtue of the Port’s lock complex is non-tidal. As a result the port’s very close to the North Sea, a mere 12-miles, which makes the sailing time from the lead station by the North Sea Canal to the harbor basin only three hours.

The Port of Amsterdam region encompasses nearly 45,000 hectares (174 sq/miles) and in 2015 handled 96.5 million tonnes. Being a major urban center, Amsterdam is also a major consumer of the freight being handled by the port. Of the 96.5 million tons of cargo handled in 2015, 78.5 million tonnes were tallied by Amsterdam itself.

Besides the North Sea, the Port of Amsterdam also has access to the Rhine River and vast European system of waterways. For example, the German inland hub of Duisburg is 16-hours away and Cologne, 24-hours. This is no small matter as 44% of all cargo transport occurs via inland shipping. Barge calls in 2015 were nearly 38,800 for the NSCA (North Sea Canal Area). Oranje locks and Amsterdam Rhine canal provide the access to inland waterways.

The Port of Amsterdam, which is a local government run port authority, has organized its aims around five clusters: Energy, Agribulk, Minerals & Recycling [AMR], General Cargo & Logistics (including Food), Cruise and Maritime Services & Real Estate.

And the short sea services connect the entire pan-European port system from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Add in the extensive highway network, proximity to Schiphol Airport, Royal Floral-Holland (world’s largest floral auction and biggest building by footprint) and the City itself, the economic importance of the Port should be obvious to all.

Untangling the Locks

Trying to explain the Port of Amsterdam without talking about locks is like trying to talk about the fairy tale Rapunzel without talking about… well yes, the locks.

The Port of Amsterdam really began with the construction of the North Sea Canal in 1876, which enabled ships to reach the port. The first part of the West port was built in early 1930s for a Ford car factory and the first part of the Asiahaven harbor was built at the end of the 1970s followed by the Afrikahaven harbor in 2000. In 1998 the unique Waterland was opened as an all weather terminal (more below). The Passenger Terminal Amsterdam was opened in 1999 and Amsterdam Container Terminal became operational in 2001.

However, the key to all current and future port activity is the lock complex at IJmuiden. This is the entrance to the North Sea Canal and all the facilities thereafter. Nearly 95% of all freight moving to and from the Port of Amsterdam transits the locks complex. When the construction of the Northern Lock was finished in 1929, it was the largest in the world. The system currently in operation at IJMuiden is composed of four locks of different sizes. The North lock, or Noordersluis, is the largest of the four at 400m (1,312 feet) in length, 50m (164 feet) in width with a depth of 15m (49 feet), meaning that only ships with a maximum 13.72m (45 feet) draft can navigate the entrance.

In January of 2016, construction began on a new lock at the entrance to the North Sea Canal at IJmuiden to provide sufficient access to the Port of Amsterdam. The new lock will be 500m (1,640 ft) long, 70m (229 feet) wide and 18m (59 feet) deep, making it the world’s largest sea lock. The accelerated construction program is scheduled to have the new, large sea lock completed in 2019.

Innovative Breakbulk Terminal

Containers aren’t the principal cargo of Amsterdam, bulk and breakbulk freight put the port on the map. The Port of Amsterdam is notable for many other seaborne cargo measures: It is the largest petroleum port in the world (39.4 million tonnes), the second largest cocoa port, the second largest coal port in Europe (17.4 million tonnes), and the fourth largest in Europe by tonnage. This gives Amsterdam about an eight percent market share in the Hamburg-Le Havre range (compared to the 38% market share for the mega-hub Port of Rotterdam).

Amsterdam is a key center for agribusiness and the port provides the market access. Besides cocoa, the port handles soybean and rapeseed. In September Cargill sold its rapeseed crush and soybean oil refining facility in the Port of Amsterdam to Bunge Ltd, a White Plains, NY-based agribusiness. Bunge said at the time of the sale, the assets were highly complementary to Bunge’s existing soy processing operations in Europe, and would allow Bunge to further expand its global oilseed processing footprint into key Northern European destinations.

Perhaps the most innovative facility in the Port of Amsterdam is VCK Logistics’ Waterland Terminal. In many ways, the terminal represents the future of break bulk shipping.

The Waterland Terminal contains three all-weather berths in which vessels can pull into a “roofed” terminal with a gantry-like crane arrangement in the ceiling to provide loading and unloading.
The Waterland Terminal contains three all-weather berths in which vessels can pull into a “roofed” terminal with a gantry-like crane arrangement in the ceiling to provide loading and unloading.

The state-of the-art Waterland Terminal contains three all-weather berths and two open docks (Ro/Ro). Essentially the vessels pull into a “roofed” terminal with a gantry like crane arrangement in the ceiling to provide loading and unloading for the ships in any weather. With the “one roof all weather” concept, weather conditions have no impact on operations. And the shelter provides additional protection for the cargo being handled, such as paper and forest products. Additionally the covered berths lead into the warehouse complex, which offers storage or access to other transportation, such as rail or road. Equally the warehouse space can act as a transshipment hub for barge or short sea movements. The warehouse itself is equipped with dehumidifiers for storage of steel goods or materials like aluminum, zinc, steel, paper, wood and pulp.