Zeebrugge moves into full throttle on cruise – Cruise Europe

Piet Vandenkerkhove on Explora I (c) Port of Antwerp-Bruges  (Image at LateCruiseNews.com - February 2024)With a post-pandemic increase in call numbers, passengers (169/475,000 in 2023) and the size of ships (over 330m loa and 180,000gt), plus a merger with Antwerp, the newly-named Port of Antwerp-Bruges (PoAB) is gearing up to meet these new requirements.

Piet Vandenkerkhove, cruises account manager Port of Antwerp-Bruges, comments: “This put stress on our infrastructure and we decided to invest in improvement. The merger with Antwerp also signified an injection of expert knowledge and available funding.”

Hence the old roll fenders at the Swedish Quay are being replaced with seven Yokohama fenders at the first berth with the second due to follow after an evaluation of the Yokohama configuration in the third quarter of this year.

“The new fendering will allow safer mooring, it is required for the cable management system of OPS and could create better opportunities for value added activities, such as luggage handling, waste reception, stores etc,” explains Vandenkerkhove.

In addition four new bollards of 200t plus will be installed at the end of this year to avoid shared bollards and crossed mooring lines when two ships berth simultaneously.

When it comes to onshore power (OPS), this is out for tender with the first 16MVA connection due to be operational by January 2026. The second connection will be available during 2028, following the construction of a 150 kV station to strengthen the grid.

This year ESI-at-berth [Enviromental Ship Index] is being introduced. Initially all ships reporting within 72 hours of departing will receive a flat-rate price incentive, regardless of the ESI score. “This module is still in the pilot phase. We will evaluate this before introducing an incentive structure,” says Vandenkerkhove.

In November 2023, a zero-emission electric shuttle bus to transport passengers between the ship’s gangway and the terminal building was introduced to reduce the port’s greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint.

The infrastructure improvements come alongside an increase in staff. Chana van Cotthem has joined the cruise team as manager cruise operations. Her task, within the nautical operations team, is to improve efficiency of all operations on the cruise terminal and to cater for the nautical chain for all cruiseships that visit the Antwerp cruise platform, a separate entity operated by the City Port of Antwerp. Van Cotthem will be assisted by Els De Brouckere, a dedicated cruise operations coordinator. Dries De Smet is heading the OPS team as advisor sustainable energy.

To extend its reach, the PoAB recently joined CLIA. “The main aim is to reach a MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] between the cruiselines, the port and the main destination of Bruges on a sustainable future proof management of cruise tourism,” explains Vandenkerkhove.

The port already limits itself to a maximum of two ships a day with cruise being quite evenly spread throughout the year, in part due to the weekly winter calls of AIDA and MSC Cruises and because of its location vis the main homeports of Southampton and Hamburg. “The busiest cruise days are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, thus avoiding the sometimes-crowded weekend days in Bruges,” he says.

“We are also working on a new booking policy – away from the current first-come first-served approach – in order to reach an even better spread of cruise calls/passengers while, at the same time, prioritising greener ships through incentives.”

Last but by no means least PoAB is in the course of rethinking its cruise operations on its Zeebrugge platform. Following the end of the Swedish Quay concession agreement with C.RO Ports (CLdN-group), the port authority now has full authority over that entire terminal area.

“We are therefore conducting a feasibility study into a possible construction of a new dedicated terminal building, transport staging area and elevated walkway/concourse and boarding bridges, to make operations more efficient and cost-effective,” concludes Vandenkerkhove. It may be early days but it is clear that cruise has moved into a new and higher gear for Zeebrugge.

(Zeebrugge moves into full throttle on cruise – Cruise Europe)