We talk to CEO Cas König about the ports of Delfzijl and Eemshaven, Wagenborg’s contribution to the region, and plans for the future.
Wagenborg has grown into an international transport organisation with customers all over the world. Nowadays, its employees come from almost everywhere, but it started out in its “own” port town of Delfzijl, where it still has its headquarters. We talk to Cas König, CEO of Groningen Seaports, about the ports of Delfzijl and Eemshaven, Wagenborg’s contribution to the region, and plans for the future.
Wagenborg has been linked inseparably with Delfzijl and its surroundings for decades. “Wagenborg has long been a very important player in the regions,” says Cas König, “and not just as one of the biggest employers. It’s very clear that many Delfzijl people have a kind of pride in Wagenborg. Everybody here has a family members who’s connected with the company in some way. My own father-in-law worked on one of Wagenborg’s ships.”
From the beginning of the twentieth century, the port of Delfzijl was the main gateway for supplies on their way to the city of Groningen. Its convenient location and its connection to the open sea made it Europe’s largest port for timber. Salt and raw materials for fertiliser were also important products transported via Delfzijl. Nowadays the emphasis in the northern ports is more on industry, as the port authority Groningen Seaports is aware. Cas König explains: “Our role as managing authority, commercial operator, and developer of the port is clearly shifting from a pure port authority to responsibility for development of an entire area. Industry is becoming increasingly important, with companies deliberately choosing to be located at a port.”
“Wagenborg really is one of the pioneers of Eemshaven. The company has always believed in the port, and that has convinced other parties to establish themselves there too. Wagenborg has certainly helped us achieve success.”
In recent years, the port area has grown enormously, and Wagenborg has grown with it. Wagenborg is also an important player at Eemshaven, with its own quay and warehouses. “It’s great to see that Wagenborg has been able to get the cruise ships from the Meyer Werft into Eemshaven,” says Mr König. “And how about the various offshore projects?” As the agent for many ships annually, cruise ships at the Wagenborg terminal, and logistics for various offshore wind projects such as the recent Borkum Riffgrund II, Wagenborg is an indispensable part of Eemshaven. “Wagenborg really is one of the pioneers of Eemshaven. The company has always believed in the port, and that has convinced other parties to establish themselves there too. Wagenborg has certainly helped us achieve success.”
“Wagenborg has long been a very important player in the regions and not just as one of the biggest employers.”
The focus on the environment is being further reinforced by the energy transition. The fuel diversification that the transition requires is reflected, for example, in the coal-fired power station at Eemshaven. Mr König explains: “It used to run entirely on coal, but it’s now 15% fuelled by biomass. Even just a ‘small’ quantity like that already has a huge impact on shipping at the port. The required biomass is currently supplied to Eemshaven by about 200 coasters, and the aim is even to run the power station entirely on biomass.” It’s clear that developments at Eemshaven are not standing still. “There’s a similar trend towards bio-based in the chemicals sector too, and that switch to biomass will also lead to an increasing need for transport.” Newly established companies, such as BOW Terminal and Van Merksteijn, will also attract more shipping movements to Delfzijl. “Van Merksteijn intends importing some 800,000 tonnes of scrap metal annually. That same tonnage will then be taken away again in the form of finished products. All in all, the port faces a major challenge due to the expected growth in shipping movements and transport. But for Wagenborg it will offer considerable opportunities.”
Cas König is also the chair of the Industry Forum for the North of the Netherlands. “If there’s anywhere where the CO₂ reduction targets can be achieved, then it’s the north of the Netherlands. Cutting down natural gas extraction in the region means that we need to boost our efforts to achieve a sustainable future. I believe that ports are becoming increasingly important in the energy transition. The north of the Netherlands is in an excellent position to make optimum use of – and further expand – its energy logistics and infrastructure so as to advance the transition. It would be illogical to have energy flow throughout the country if a port could play the role of hub within an electricity network. I therefore see the port as the ideal location for electricity to be brought ashore so as to bring about the greening of the chemicals industry, regardless of whether that means wind energy, solar energy, or even hydrogen produced out at sea. In any case, it’s become clear in recent years that green growth has been one of the factors responsible for the success of Groningen Seaports.”
The ports of Delfzijl and Eemshaven are currently developing vigorously. If all our wishes, ambitions and plans are realised, that will offer enormous opportunities for the region and therefore also for Wagenborg. Prospects for the future are excellent!
The port of Delfzijl has a long history, whereas Eemshaven (literally “the Eems harbour”) is much younger. “Zijl” means “sluice” and “Delf” is the old name for the Damsterdiep, a canal running through the province of Groningen. So the name means “sluice in the Damsterdiep”. Delfzijl developed in the 13th century, but it was only from the late 19th century that the port became of great importance to the city of Groningen. It was back then that Egbert Wagenborg, the founder of the company, settled down ashore and started business as “E. Wagenborg shipping agent Delfzijl”. For many years, the company remained small but successful in the freight business, forwarding, towage, stevedoring, and passenger services.
During that period, the Dutch government carried out a lot of expansion work at the port, such as constructing a quay wall to accommodate deep-draught vessels, connecting the dockyard to the country’s rail network, creating a berth for canal and river barges, enlarging the quay, and installing loading ramps. By the early 1930s, the recent expansions already proved too small, because the export of industrial products from the southeast of the province of Groningen went via the port of Delfzijl. The Great Depression and the Second World War meant, however, that enlargement would have to wait.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Dutch economy grew rapidly. The pattern of agriculture-based industry was overturned and as a result the transhipment activities at the port of Delfzijl also changed enormously. The discovery of large quantities of salt in the ground led to the development of a major chemicals cluster near Delfzijl. The discovery and extraction of the Slochteren natural gas field also changed the profile of the province dramatically, leading to further industrialisation and more shipping movements. The 1950s and 1960s were a period when Wagenborg made its mark as a shipping company with an extensive fleet. The need for further port improvements was obvious. One of the measures taken was to construct a deep-sea port at Delfzijl in 1968. A decision was also taken to create a new seaport in the north of the country. This became Eemshaven, located about 20 kilometres north of the existing Delfzijl seaport. Eemshaven was designed in such a way that the harbour mouth extends out into the Doekegat, a deep channel in the Wadden Sea. This design allows deep-draught vessels, and therefore a great deal of tonnage, to access Eemshaven. Eemshaven was designed for large-scale activities in oil refining and the chemicals sector.
In 1973, Queen Juliana sounded the horn of the passenger ship “Rottum” to declare Eemshaven open, at the same time as an expansion of the port of Delfzijl. By the time both ports were ready, the economic crisis had arrived and industrial expansion became sluggish. As a result, part of the intended industrial area at Delfzijl and Eemshaven is still unused, offering ample space for new development.