Wallenius Wilhelmsen is trialling a ro-ro pontoon barge solution to transport breakbulk cargoes between Antwerp and its terminal in Zeebrugge.

WWOcean-barge trial

Wallenius Wilhelmsen is partnering pontoon barge operator Victrol for the solution. By using a pontoon barge that comes with a ramp, breakbulk can be placed on handling equipment such as roll trailers and safely loaded without the need for additional lifting. 

Manoeuvred by a push boat, the Victrol barges used in the trial are also designed to fit the width of the canals to Zeebrugge port. Over recent years, regular barges have increased in size, often making this type of transportation unavailable and uneconomical to breakbulk OEMs looking to access worldwide deepsea liner services from Zeebrugge via inland waterways, said Wallenius Wilhelmsen.

“With this trial, we’re aiming to offer a one-stop solution for customers,” explained Carsten Wendt, senior manager, global industrial account development, Wallenius Wilhelmsen. “In the past the size of barges has meant limited accessibility, so we wanted to respond to our customers’ needs to find a solution for transporting breakbulk via inland waterways – and we hope pontoon barges will enable us to do just that.”

During the first phase of the trial, over 680 freight tons of Liebherr products were transported from International Car Operators’ terminal in Antwerp. To transport the same cargo over road would require about 10-12 truck loads.

Werner Van Dessel, sales development manager at Wallenius Wilhemsen, added: “Our goal is to create a symbolic inland ‘ro-ro water bridge’ connecting the 70 km between Antwerp and Zeebrugge. In time, we hope this approach will also take trucks off the road, thereby helping our customers to reduce their emissions.”

Following the first phase of the barge trial, the team will now evaluate the outcome to determine if this can be offered as a permanent solution. 

“By partnering with Liebherr, subcontractor International Car Operators in Antwerp, the barge operator Victrol and the Port Authority of Zeebrugge, we hope that this barge trial will result in a permanent solution offering customers improved accessibility to Zeebrugge, reduce the proportion of trucks on public roads and support our sustainability ambitions,” added Wendt.

The trial also highlights the potential for effective collaboration between both ports, which will officially merge to become the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in April this year. “This is a compelling example of how the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge can successfully work together in future to strengthen their position in the global supply chain and offer customers better access, competitive solutions for transporting breakbulk,” commented Van Dessel.