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2020 March 2

Aleksey Shukletsov: “We attract clients with comprehensive services”

MSCC Bronka is the youngest and in many senses unrivalled terminal of Big Port St. Petersburg. In his interview with IAA PortNews, Aleksey Shukletsov, Executive Director of OOO Fenix (operator of Multipurpose Sea Cargo Complex Bronka in Saint-Petersburg), tells about Bronka development, logistic facilities construction, container market situation, prospects for application of innovative technologies.

- Mr Shukletsov, what shipping lines are among the clients of MSCC Bronka?

- First of all, I would like to emphasize that we, as a terminal, are not affiliated with any lines or logistic operators. In our opinion, it is good since we can offer services equally accessible for all market players. Moreover, we see it as our competitive advantage over other terminals of Saint-Petersburg.  

As of today, our largest partners among the shipping lines are CMA CGM (including Containerships), COSCO, OOCL, Yang Ming, Atlantic Ro-Ro, Finnlines, and a number of other container and Ro-Ro lines.

- It is believed that the lines are reluctant to change their tried and tested routes and it is different to attract them with new projects. How can you do that?

 - I agree with you concerning the lines’ conservatism. However, it is important to bear in mind that the lines follow their clients. Therefore, we are striving to help consignors, consignees, brokers and forwarders render their services so that the clients had no problems with management of services,  obtaining of information, access to the terminal and the array of services we offer today. The more clients we have the more shipping lines we have. As of today, we have been selected as a partner by quite a large number of companies.

- Containers are among the key cargoes of MSCC Bronka. How do you see the situation in the container market of Saint-Petersburg. Has its structure changed over the recent years?

- After the Crimean events of 2014 and consequent policy of sanctions and counter sanctions, the container market of Saint-Petersburg sank by about 30% (or 700,000 TEUs when expressed in physical terms). The market has not finally recovered by today. The recovery growth was about 8% per year on the average and we expect it to keep the same pace.

As for the structure of container turnover, import used to dominate before 2014 with export and import having become almost equal now. In my opinion, it is good for shipping lines as they have a balanced load in both directions. A different disbalance is seen now – the number of empty containers for export is not sufficient …

- How can a newly arrived ‘black swan’ of coronavirus affect the container flow?

- Coronavirus causes the market turbulence which can entail the fall of container flow on the Chinese lines in the coming month or two.  Then everything will depend on how fast China succeeds with the problem localization and production recovery.

- What are the prospects of loose cargo containerization amid the deficit of dry bulk transshipment facilities in Russian ports?

- Together with our partners from KOTTA, we are looking into containerization of dry bulk and loose cargo involving innovative twenty-foot KOTTA containers. KOTTA container prototype has already been created and project of a small series has been launched (about 100-150 containers). Their operational life testing is scheduled for this year. Previous prototypes of such containers have already been tested on the railway. We expect the resource test to be completed in the second half of 2020. They can be followed by a technological developments of both the container and the spreader being a part of the technology and responsible for complete opening of the container bottom. The full-scale tests we have already held show that the system is operational.

The inner wooden cover of a container is an advantage of the technology ensuring almost zero residual  cargo remaining in container after unloading. For example, only 10 kilograms of potassium fertilizer remained undischarged after unloading of 32 kilograms of cargo from such a container. It is an excellent result as compared with the conventional technologies. Actually, one of the key problems faced during transshipment of dry bulk cargo is the need to clean railcars which requires enormous labour input. This technology lets avoid it.

The range of cargo that can be handled by KOTTA containers is quite wide: fertilizers, base metal, grain, pellets and coal. In winter, coal becomes congealed in railcars. To unload them, the cargo should be heated or somehow knocked off. If TOTTA technology is improved to 100-pct opening of bottom, coal will anyway leave a container by gravity regardless of the degree of congealation.

There is much loose cargo in the market and the potential of its containerization is big. We are positive about the prospects of containerization in our port. With the Liebherr mobile cranes and KOTTA technology involved, MSCC Bronka can achieve the performance comparable to that of a dedicated terminal’s shiploading machine.

- You have mentioned the Liebherr cranes. Could you tell more about handling oversize and overweight cargo

- Our transshipment facility is meaningfully named a multipurpose complex. We proceed from the right of our clients to opt for a certain technology they prefer for transshipment of their cargo.

As a rule, heavyweights are transported together with some smaller cargoes. Since we are capable of handling heavyweights we are able to offer a service package to our clients: the entire cargo lot can be transshipped via Bronka.

As of today, we are the world’s only terminal with two cranes of 302 tonnes in capacity. The first one was installed back in 2015, the second one – in 2019. Involving both of them, we can lift cargo of up to 500 tonnes. Besides, transshipment of dry bulk cargo by these cranes is more convenient than STS loaders.

So, our clients can have their tasks fulfilled at our terminal with both an opportunity to handle oversize cargo and other general cargoes starting from containers and ending, if necessary, with dry bulk cargo.

When speaking about oversize cargo, the prospects of this segment are quite promising as Russia is rather active in modernization of its production facilities and imports quite a big amount of equipment. On the other hand, some equipment is exported like that for nuclear power stations. It should be also taken into consideration that transshipment of such cargoes is highly marginal although it requires a certain level of competence and quality of equipment.

- КОТТА is not the only innovative technology planned for application at your terminal. You have recently announced the plan to introduce driverless electric trucks. Is it economically viable in our winter conditions indeed?

- At the phase of the terminal designing and construction we used to get proposals on adopting a concept of a fully automated container terminal. However, we rejected it for two reasons. The first one is technical. The automation systems available today include sensors that stop working in case of icing. So, this system will not function in our climate. The second one is economical. The level of wages here, in Russia, is still below that of the foreign countries. That is also true for port employees. Therefore, in terms of costs we could do well keeping to conventional technologies and human labour.

On the other hand, the world evolves and it is always on the move. That is why, we took a closer look at the product presented by Gaussin. In our opinion, they offer a good breakthrough idea: automated trucks with its integrated system of navigation allowing for detection of pedestrians and road signs. It does not require installation of any sensors on the terminal or nay large-scale works there. Some operations can be automated with some to be performed by conventional methods. That will let considerably reduce capital costs when introducing the new technology.

Another aspect: is the use of batteries for the operation of trucks. That will allow for prevention of harmful emissions. We were assured of the ability of batteries to work at a temperature between +40С and -40С. The problem is only in limited period of their operation (12 hours at full load). It is actually not critical for the terminal: with a store of batteries they can be changed promptly.

One more advantage of those vehicles is their high maneuverability.

Thus far, we have agreed with Gaussin that they obtain an approval from Gostechnadzor (State Technical Supervision Body – Ed.) as the terminal is a facility of category 1 hazard allowed to use only certified equipment. We have also agreed on conducting tests.

As for the economic effect, the first phase of the new technology application is not likely to bring any financial profit. Nevertheless, the future is in such technologies since they let cut down the personnel and enhance sustainability of the production process, which is getting increasingly crucial. Moreover, involvement of driverless vehicles lets avoid accidents caused by a human factor.

In particular, we plan these trucks to be deployed for transportation between the terminal and the logistic park that is to be built some 1.5 kilometer from the waterfront.

- While on the topic of the logistic park, what will this project give the terminal? When will it be implemented?

- We are implementing this project together with Logistic Operator. We presume that in the mid-term the bulk of cargo flow will be made by export cargo including that from the Urals and Siberia. Their transportation by road is expensive. So, railways will always be in demand. We have railway facilities at the terminal and they are sufficient for the current turnover. Yet, we will not be able to do without a transport and logistic center in the future.

It is under designing at present.

As for the railway component, there are specifications approved by Russian Railways, design document on reconstruction of the Bronka station to build up its annual capacity to 3.8 million tonnes (the first phase of specifications). The design financed at our own expense has been handed over to Russian Railways. The project implementation is to commence in the nearest time.

On the other, the flow of transit cargo from China features a downward trend. It seems that the Chinese side curtails subsidizing this segment. The coronavirus does not add any optimism either. In this context, we’ll perhaps have to revise phasing of the TLC project. Of course, its concept will hardly change drastically but the issue of phasing is the issue of initial capital investments and, consequently, the issue of return on investments.

- To pursue the subject of railway logistics, what are regular trains from MSCC Bronka today?

- There are regular trains to Khovrino, to Moscow.

More or less regular trains service the cargo flows of Sibur.

We interact with our closest partners, Modul and Voskhod, through container trains involved mostly in exports.

- Switching to the subject of seaborne transport, what is your opinion about possible creation of LNG bunkering base at the terminal?

- We have signed a relevant agreement with Gazprom Gas-Engine Fuel while Containerships has acquired four LNG-powered ships and they are currently fueled in Rotterdam.  Yet, we see no high demand for this service here. There is low-sulphur fuel oil and scrubbers. Not all ship owners have resources to build ships running on LNG.

- What are the prospects of handling cargoes carried by ferries?

- Our terminal is able to accept vehicles with drivers (trucks) and it was in high demand in the two-thousands when our port was under designing. In general, it was needed for transportation of perishable goods, that are not being imported to Russia amid sanctions and countersanctions.

Besides, Saint-Petersburg is not an island. Cargo can be delivered here by land. Therefore, the segment of cargo and passenger transportation by ferries is not likely to boost.

As for transportation of Ro-Ro cargo as it is, it will certainly develop, primarily in the segment of new passenger cars. We are actively developing in this direction: this year we will additionally introduce about 1,000 spaces for new passenger cars.

- Bronka is well-placed for tourism purposes with its direct link to the Ring Road and proximity to the historical sights of Saint-Petersburg suburbs. Do you see any prospects in arranging welcoming of cruise in the area of Bronka?

- First of all, I would like to emphasize that the idea to build Marine Façade has been justified by life itself. However, the market faces the deficit of cruise welcoming facilities again: the existing infrastructure is not sufficient while liners develop towards larger passenger capacity. Cruise ships that cannot call here wait for their turn in Tallinn.

Development of tourism infrastructure in the center of city appears to be possible. The question is how reasonable it is. With that said, shifting of the load beyond the center seems to be a correct solution.

Indeed, the Grand Menshikov Palace is 3 kilometers from MSCC Bronka and just 1 kilometer from the port district of Lomonosov.  Opposite is Kronshtadt with the Patriot park under construction and the Naval Cathedral.  All southern suburbs are easy to reach from here without crossing the overloaded city center. There is also an access canal of a sufficient depth. So, it would be reasonable to look into development of infrastructure for welcoming cruise tourists near Lomonosov. There is no need for capital construction, it can be a seasonal checkpoint. Perhaps, an embankment can be built there as there are few of them in the area.

- Are you ready to take part in such a project as an investor?

- It is actually a seasonal business and the primary beneficiary of tourism is the city. So, I believe it is the city that should undertake such projects. Of course, attraction of private investors is also possible but we are focused on stevedoring activities.

Interviewed by Vitaly Chernov