Adriatic Gate Container Terminal – Gateway to Europe

The Adriatic Gate Container Terminal has the concession for the main port of Croatia until 2041. It was originally envisaged as the main deep seaport for the local Croatian market, with a primary focus on the Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian local markets. However, it soon found its focus needed expanding. We learn how the Adriatic Gate Container Terminal is set to become a key logistical hub.

A need was identified in the market for greater connections to the hinterlands, so we embarked on an intermodal strategy, commissioning two rail-mounted gantry cranes and over the last two years we’ve had a 50% increase in rail volumes,” says Emmanuel Papagiannakis, CEO of the Adriatic Gate Container Terminal. “We’re broadening our market and changing our focus. Now 70% of all volumes handled are for the non-Croatian market, opening up central Europe, Hungary, Slovak, Serbia and more.”

Adriatic Gate Container Terminal is a subsidiary of ICTSI, which boasts a portfolio of 32 terminals around the world, with the largest ships they encounter at the Croatian port.

“2M is calling with 15,000TEU vessels, Ocean Alliance recently deployed a 10,000TEU ship and the majority of new build deliveries in the next two years are in the 18,000-24,000TEU or Neopanamax wide beam 12,500-15,000TEU class. Now part of THE Alliance, HMM recently deployed 24,000TEU vessels into its Asia and Europe services,” Papagiannakis points out. “Larger vessels in Asia-Med and Asia-Adriatic have reduced slot cost similar to those in North Europe, so these vessels are here to stay, we need to ensure we have the ability to accommodate increasing vessel size.”

Dredging Up the Future

This is why the Adriatic Container Terminal is currently working on an extensive dredging project.

“We have only 328 metres with an adequate draft for 15,000TEU vessels which work with some restrictions and we’ve commenced a 100-metre extension, allowing us 428 metres with the required draft and unrestricted access,” says Papagiannakis.

It’s an ambitious project, and a challenging one to undertake in an already operating container terminal.

“Apart from the 100 metres dredging extension, we’re upgrading 6,500 square metres on the yard side of the terminal, with a new yard and strengthening berth with new crane rails, but there are two issues,” Papagiannakis says. “Given the loss of 100m and some space for contractors to house equipment, we will have to work with reduced berth length for about a year. So our challenge is mitigating and minimising any operational disruption. We have seven services a week and our focus will be on maintaining service delivery levels.”

It is a big project, but fortunately, the Adriatic Gate Container Terminal has a fantastic team to carry it out.

“Something I’ve got to commend the team for is we’ve built up quite a bit of experience. We just completed tripling our intermodal capacity with a new intermodal yard, so we’ve had some experience in dealing with large scale projects. Even the labour has become accustomed to the terminal being in a state of construction and expansion,” Papagiannakis tells us. “We had one rail line with three reach-stackers, now we have four rail lines under 2 RMGs, and also a new shunting tunnel. So I think that experience will help us in planning and focusing on high productivity and completing vessel operations as quickly as possible while maintaining intermodal connections.”

Building a team like that is a key challenge in Croatia, where it can be a significant task persuading young people to stay and work in the country.

“It’s no secret that a lot of the younger population does leave Croatia for Western Europe and better-paying jobs, so when it comes to sourcing talent we’re still in the local market,” Papagiannakis says. “We have a partnership programme with a local university, bringing people in for work experience. We have a project called Project Pandora, selecting students to come in for work experience. We’ve got young engineers who already had some work experience coming in, and we’re getting software engineers from universities. The dockworkers are local and again young people are leaving for better-paid jobs, so retention is important. We support each other, we enjoy some flexible working arrangements and at the same time support our staff with a good working environment, health and fitness and medical insurance. It’s a good environment to work in.”

As well as recruiting and retaining talent, the added challenge this year has been keeping staff safe throughout the pandemic.

“I think we had the first wave in April. The challenge was in actually convincing people about the seriousness of the disease,” Papagiannakis recalls. “We put together an emergency response plan. We have mandatory temperature screening of all employees, and that gets dispatched through contractors as well, ensuring even they’re following the rules. Everything from changing rooms to workstations and desks is checked. We went through all these processes. The potential for disruption is quite high and I think we managed well in terms of people and their safety.”

Adriatic Gateway

Looking forward, Papagiannakis believes the Adriatic Gateway Container Terminal has huge potential as a pathway into Central Europe as a whole.

“I think in general I would say that the Adriatic as a gateway is already established and can only keep growing. Apart from larger vessels, there is MSC as a co-owner of the Trieste terminal and recent announcement from HHLA with a new facility in Trieste, which indicates they accept northern ports such as Hamburg will concede market share to southern ports, as we have already seen with the success of Piraeus and North Adriatic Ports. We will continue highlighting the route as an alternative or complementary route to the northern gateways. The market potential is there,” he insists. “We’re linked to the hinterland; we have great potential as a rail terminal. We’re green, we’re focusing on those central European economies with solid fundamentals for economic growth including Hungary, Austria, and Serbia. That’s where I see us moving towards. We will see more focus on this new home market. It’s quite competitive. There’s also an open tender for a new terminal nearby, a separate facility with two expressions of interest from Ningbo Port and Maersk/Enna.  A decision on that has been delayed but is expected by the end of the year. It’s going to become even more competitive once it’s up and running in 2025.”

Fundamentally, however, the terminal’s priority remains its customers.

“It’s just making sure we keep up with customer requirements, investing in equipment, adequate draft and an efficient rail terminal ensuring timely hinterland connections,” Papagiannakis concludes.

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