Innovation to the fore
The future starts today – this motto is writ large for the inland waterway shipping enterprise Danser Switzerland, which runs services on the Rhine between the Benelux countries and Switzerland. It has several ongoing pioneering projects – the first LNG ship on the Rhine, a double solution for cool chain transports, the integration of its vessels into its IT planning module and a planned new box terminal in Weil.
The sweeping changes that have had massive impacts on the world’s maritime shipping industry have not passed the sector’s inland cousin by. Vessels powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) are set to ring in the end of the age of diesel on the river Rhine too.
Danser Switzerland is one of the pacemakers driving these developments forward. It is a part of the Danser Group from the Netherlands, which has a total of 130 employees and which specialises in container transport to and from Switzerland, southern Germany and the Alsace region of France. Danser Switzerland’s hub concept, paired with its scheduled services between the Upper Rhine and Rotterdam, Antwerp and Amsterdam on the North Sea, connects important Central European regions of trade and industry.
Danser is equipped for the future, especially thanks to its inland barge reefer container solutions, as well as the first barge in Europe to be reconfigured for LNG. The firm is on the cusp of introducing other innovative new products.
Own containerships form the basis
The company’s own barge trains form its backbone. The firm has a big focus on what is its own – «because we deploy our own fleet exclusively in our services on the Upper Rhine,» as managing director Heinz Amacker, who heads a team of 55 employees in Basel, underlines. The point is that «running our own fleet puts us in a better position to ensure top-quality transport as well as the information and crew we need, compared to working with many different individual barge owners.» Such private vessel owners mostly operate as subcontractors.
The barge trains Grindelwald-Mürren, Eiger-Nordwand and MarlaDuo-Marla are managed from Danser’s Basel offices, both from a technical as well as a staffing point of view. The last barge train to join the company’s fleet was the Alsace-Hollande, which came on board when Danser took over CFNR’s container activities in 2013.
An LNG prototype
LNG is a key subject for the future, and Danser has set an important milestone for the industry with the first-ever retrofit project for the engine of an inland barge. Danser carried out a pilot project in the context of a European Union LNG master plan, becoming the first enterprise in Europe to convert a barge – the main vessel Eiger, in 2014 – from diesel to LNG propulsion. It was a real challenge, according to Amacker, from the planning stage through the reconstruction process, with many teething troubles along the way. «We’ve been very pleased with operations in the past twelve months. The system is running perfectly now, with 99% gas and 1% diesel. That’s 1.5 l of diesel an hour!»
Barge train emissions are in a league of their own, which is an ever-more important element for major shippers from the industrial and trading sectors. Customers expect «green» transport. The emissions reductions achieved have surpassed expectations. Savings measured against the CCNR’s level 2 emissions standards that apply today come to 96% for nitrogen oxide, 98% for particulate matter and around 20% for CO2.
«Ecological sustainability is very important to the Danser Group and one of our key strategic targets,» Amacker emphasises. The company has already been recognised for its comprehensive environment management at various levels. In 2011 it was one of the first inland waterway enterprises to receive a «Lean and Green Award». Over and above this all of its barge trains are certified with a «green award for inland barges».
Other corporate innovation concerns temperature-controlled transport solutions. In the last two years Danser has invested heavily in equipping ships with reefer plugs. Today every barge offers two cool chain solutions, depending on a customer’s needs, with a up to 40 plugs. Premium plugs ensure a permanent power supply for temperature-controlled containers during transport. Temperatures are measured at clearly-defined intervals, recorded in the reefer log and provided to clients in an electronic form. There are also several emergency measures that can be taken if a refrigeration unit breaks down. The cool chain is thus guaranteed on the basis of the GXP regulations.
Kay Metzger, Danser’s sales manager, points out that «we developed this service especially for the Swiss pharmaceuticals industry, which is growing strongly.» The eco variant was introduced recently as an alternative to the premium option. The cheaper plugs are suited more for less temperature-sensitive goods that do not require permanent cooling, or much less cooling on account of the outside temperatures. Special plugs supply these reefer boxes with power at one to three-hour intervals. The enterprise has also scored a first in the IT field when Danser became the inaugural container carrier to integrate all of its vessels into its IT planning system.
Customer portal with real-time data
«We developed our own tracking and tracing system in-house. It has been in action since February. Vessels are connected electronically and clients can follow their boxes’ progress online in real time,» Metzger explains. Import customers receive direct notification when their container has been loaded in port. This means that the information is available up to two days earlier than used to be the case, thus allowing firms to make further plans as necessary. The same applies to when the box arrives in Basel. Clients are informed as soon as it has been unloaded, has cleared customs and is ready for pick-up. «The system provides our customers with an integrated system from one firm, which entails many additional advantages,» Metzger elaborates.
A container terminal in Weil
The future is rosy for the inland waterways. Danser has teamed up with the Swiss firms Swissterminal and Ultra-Brag to plan the Container Terminal Weil (CTW), whose site was selected in strict accordance with nautical as well as transport factors. «We don’t consider CTW to be a competitor for the planned Basel Nord terminal, but rather expect them to augment each other. Demand for handling capacity in the trinational region around Basel is set to rise.»
The investors not only expect to generate greater volumes, on account of new container terminals commencing operations on the Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam, but also want to make up for the loss of Swissterminal handling capacities at the inland port of Basel’s Westquai in the year 2029.
Danser believes that its market orientation makes it a box shipping pacemaker. «We bank on high safety and environmental standards, as well as efficient IT and technology, to enable us to offer a top performance. Owning our fleet allows us to set our high standards ourselves – that is the recipe at the heart of our success,» Amacker closed.
• Active in container shipping since 1982.
• Danser’s Rhine services include scheduled options from Rotterdam and Antwerp to Mannheim, Strasbourg / Kehl, Ottmarsheim and Basel / Weil, offering six weekly sailings in each direction.
• All of Danser’s services in the segments inland container shipping, handling, warehousing, pre and post-feedering and customs clearance options are offered cost-effectively from one source.
• Multimodal road and rail solutions to and from maritime ports.
The Danser Group
• One of the leading inland shipping lines, offering an extensive network.
• Danser’s fleet of 50 vessels transports more than 1 million teu annually between maritime ports and the European hinterland.
• Regular rail connections between Rotterdam and various destinations.