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France, large hinterland for port of Zeebrugge

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France is not only a good neighbour to Belgium, the country is also extremely important for the activities in the port of Zeebrugge. The SITL transport and logistics fair in Paris was the perfect moment to meet Philippe Le Petit. He represents Port of Zeebrugge and the port community in France.
Philippe Le Petit knows the business. For forty years, he built his career, first as director at CP Ships, then at Naviland Cargo, a subsidiary of the French railways. The latter brought him to Zeebrugge. "Together with the port, we started up the 'Zodiac' rail feeder service to Dourges (south of Lille) in 2012," Le Petit says. Later, when there was a growing need to have a foothold in France, he became "the man on the ground".

"Zeebrugge is a very accessible port from all sides."

Philippe Le Petit

Zeebrugge

Le Petit speaks of Zeebrugge with a pronounced affinity. "I like the suppleness with which the port works, from the container handling, phytosanitary inspections, customs, the administration up to and including the shipment. This goes a lot smoother than in some competing ports."

Le Petit is also happy with the simplicity of the infrastructure. "Zeebrugge is a very accessible port from all sides. All terminals are connected by rail. There is space and no congestion," Le Petit states.

"It is nice working together with the Belgians," he says. "Everything goes faster, it's less complicated, it's efficient. Ports in Belgium are run like a business, not like a political institution. The social climate, too, is an absolute asset."

French
customers

Zeebrugge's best-known French customers are Toyota, Firestone, the French car brands, Zespri and, of course, Tropicana, a fine logistical example. "The fruit juice tanker comes from Brazil. The juice is bottled and labelled in Zeebrugge, and then travels by ECS trucks to Romanèche-Thorins, a distribution centre north of Lyon."
Fruit juice tankers from Brazil arrive at Tropicana in Zeebrugge. The juice is bottled and labelled in Zeebrugge, and then travels by ECS trucks to Romanèche-Thorins, a distribution centre north of Lyon.

Asia

Le Petit underlines the importance of the Ocean Alliance, the grand alliance between COSCO, OOCL, CMA CGM and Evergreen. This allows Zeebrugge to offer interesting transit times, both for import and export. "The advantage for the customer is that concerning Asia we are the last port for export, and the first for import," he explains.

"The fact that Zeebrugge only serves Asia is a disadvantage, because some customers look for a port that serves Asia, America and Africa. In that sense, the merger with the port of Antwerp will be an asset," Philippe Le Petit believes.

Redevelopment of rail products

"The first customer of a port is the shipping company. In order to tempt them, not only the nautical aspects are important, but especially the intermodal connections with the hinterland. For the port of Zeebrugge we are continuously working on this, together with Johan Abel, Chief Officer Logistics & Sales. We have just opened a daily train connection with Strasbourg, a cooperation between Naviland and Lineas. To Lauterbourg we go by barge as well as by rail (Lauterbourg is situated north of Strasbourg). The existing connection with Dourges is carried out by Novatrans. From Dourges there is a connection to many other French destinations. We work with the CMA CGM group for distribution from Dourges to Lyon and Marseille. So on paper we have a service to Lyon and Marseille. A direct connection to Marseille is now in the design phase. The redevelopment of rail products is possible because the volumes are there."

"A train connection is only profitable when it is 90% full. It is the last carriages that make the profit."

Philippe Le Petit

As is often the case, it is a chicken or egg story. "It's not just about the volumes," stresses Le Petit. "A balance is needed in both directions of the route. A train connection is only profitable when it is 90% full. It is the last carriages that make the profit. Rail transport is complicated and risky," says the former rail manager. Yet he strongly believes in the benefits. "Rail brings goods to the final destination without obstacles," he says.

"France has put a massive amount of energy into passenger rail transport, to the detriment of freight. Solutions were sought to get trucks off the road but the rail infrastructure is outdated." As for inland navigation, he also sees a problem with the access infrastructure: "Only medium-sized barges can reach France. It is precisely the missing layer of containers that makes the difference in terms of profitability," he says.

Discovery Days

For Zeebrugge the most relevant regions in France are the Nord Pas-de-Calais, Alsace, Champagne and the north of Bourgogne, and by extension, Lyon.

On 28 October APZI and Port of Zeebrugge are hosting the first "Discovery Day" in Strasbourg. "Together with Cosco Shipping Ports Zeebrugge, I have been exploring the region for some months to gauge the support of customers and authorities. We already have high hopes of working with this region."

"Strasbourg is a strong distribution platform, a crossroads of waterways, rails and motorways."

Philippe Le Petit

The good cooperation with the port of Strasbourg is confirmed by several events. In September Zeebrugge had a booth at a multimodal fair, organised by Port de Strasbourg. There was also an evening at the Propeller Club.

The Discovery Days are a new initiative and will also be organised at other locations. Strasbourg is the first. "We want Zeebrugge to be better known among shippers, distributors, diplomats and members of the chambers of commerce. Strasbourg is a strong distribution platform, a crossroads of waterways, rails and motorways." Le Petit calls it a "carrefour logistique".
Philippe Le Petit underlines the importance of the Ocean Alliance, the largest alliance between COSCO, OOCL, CMA CGM and Evergreen, which calls at the Cosco Shipping Ports Terminal in Zeebrugge. This allows Zeebrugge to offer interesting transit times, both for import and export.
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