Rotterdam cleared over Maasvlakte ECT lawsuit

Rotterdam cleared over Maasvlakte ECT lawsuit
Maasvlakte I, which ECT alleges, will be "cannibalised"

The district court of Rotterdam has cleared the Port of Rotterdam of abusing power when allocating sites for the second Maasvlakte, after a lawsuit was filed by Europe Container Terminals (ECT).

ECT, owned by Hutchison, was claiming €1bn (US$1.27bn) in estimated losses over the award of concession agreements to Rotterdam World Gateway and APM Terminals for new box facilities on the reclaimed Maasvlakte II area.

In particular, ECT slammed the plans for additional throughput capacity, asserting that Maasvlakte II would bring 50% overcapacity in container handling operations to the port, “cannabilising” Maasvlakte I where ECT operates the ECT Delta and Euromax terminals.

ECT also alleged  that agreements between the government and the municipality of Rotterdam had not been honoured.

A statement from Rechtbank Rotterdam, the city’s district court, said: “The Port Authority did not act unlawfully by promoting greater competition between the container stevedoring terminals. It was inevitable that there would be temporary over-capacity.

“With its policy, the Port Authority served the interests of the more long-term development of the Port of Rotterdam. Furthermore, it took measures to limit the negative consequences of this over-capacity.

“ECT was not denied a fair chance in the tendering procedure. The court found no evidence that the Port Authority had made any firm commitments to ECT which it failed to honour. The terms and conditions of the agreements which the Port Authority made with ECT are no less favourable than those made with its rivals.”

Rotterdam’s Port Authority maintained its innocence, issuing the following statement: “The Port of Rotterdam Authority has always acted correctly and treated the various terminal operators equally. We have always regretted that this issue led to legal proceedings.

“Now that this clear ruling has been issued, we hope to be able to bring this matter quickly to a close, and together with ECT and the other stakeholders to devote our energies to strengthening Rotterdam’s competitive position.”

However, in recent months, inland waterway and feeder vessels have experienced delays at ECT’s terminals, causing the port to announce three measures to tackle congestion, which include traffic moving to nearby terminals.

In a statement, ECT responded to the court’s announcement, saying: “The judgment of the district court is very disappointing and unexpected. This statement does not bring a solution to the problems in the Rotterdam container sector closer. Maasvlakte II will cannibalise Maasvlakte I, resulting in vacancies and a substantial loss of jobs.

“ECT started a lawsuit, because trust was violated, agreements and promises were not fulfilled, starting points have changed and rules were modified. As a consequence ECT suffered enormous damage. ECT has been asking for attention to this from 2009 onwards.

“After consultations proved unfruitful, there remained no other option for ECT than to submit to an independent third party. With the ruling of the court in Rotterdam, port problems are not solved.

“In the short term more than 50% extra throughput capacity will be put in the market. This is a market that has in recent years been characterised by minimal growth and where the expectations for the years to come are only hesitantly optimistic.

“The resulting overcapacity will lead to major economic and social problems, which will arise on the first Maasvlakte.  This is in complete contrast with the agreements between the Government and the Municipality made at the time of the decision making with regard to the second Maasvlakte. This new Maasvlakte was to be constructed to meet future demands for space and volume capacity.”

ECT also announced that it is considering further action.

*ECT’s statement was issued in Dutch and CM has obtained an English translation.