There could be no better time than a cold winter’s day in January to illustrate the benefits of Finland’s – and Scandinavia’s – first all weather terminal (AWT).

During the official opening of the Port of Kokkola’s new facility the weather had improved from the –14 degrees C of the previous day but, with snow on the ground and ice on the water, it was possible to appreciate just how unforgiving the winter months can be. Kokkola is situated 7 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, in the Gulf of Bothnia, and icebreakers are required from January to April.

Now a €20m investment by the port enables ships to sail direct into a covered terminal and for cargoes to be discharged and loaded completely protected from the weather. The 132x62m terminal houses a new, Italian-made 50-tonne crane which, because of the building’s single span structure, can travel the entire length and width of the terminal. The port is also to build three 5,000m2 warehouses which will connect with the AWT.

Kokkola has followed the lead of the Port of Amsterdam which opened its first AWT in 1998, increasing traffic by 200%; a second AWT was built in 2002. A weekly service between Amsterdam and Kokkola means cargo travels under cover from one port to the other.

Kokkola currently handles 3.5 million tonnes a year, including around 400,000m3 of sawn timber and 10-20,000 tonnes of plywood, and the port hopes the new operation will attract an additional 1 million tonnes of cargo a year.

Port director Torbjörn Witting said: “It is now possible for lorries to load shipments of sawn timber at eastern Finnish sawmills, bring the cargo to Kokkola’s undercover facilities for shipping to Amsterdam’s AWT where they are reloaded and delivered to a final destination – all under cover.”

Service to the UK

There is also a service to the UK every three weeks – to Rochester and Belfast – and Mikki Koskinen, chartering manager of agency Meriaura Ltd, has welcomed Kokkola’s new asset. It offered many advantages, he said, not least that of more efficient loading.

“There will be improved quality for sawmillers and their customers,” said Mr Koskinen.

Transit Medway managing director Mark Lay said the AWT would assure reliability of the service to Rochester and, when the warehousing is complete, it will mean that timber cargoes are kept in premium condition.

Those involved in the port say it is this improved efficiency that is the AWT’s selling point.

“In the terminal there’s no snow, no ice, no movement of the ship and there’s better lighting,” said Joakim Laxäbak, managing director of stevedoring company Rauanheimo.

The 35m-wide quayside also aids efficiency as cargo can be placed on the quay in advance so loading can be preplanned.

Eighty per cent of timber cargoes are transported to the port by road and the government recently announced a €9m investment to build a road from the port to the motorway, bypassing the town of Kokkola. The railway, which carries the remainder of timber supplies, is 50m from the AWT.

Close to Russian markets

Speaking at the opening of the AWT, transport minister Leena Luhtanen said efficient logistics were crucial to Finland’s export and import markets, especially considering the high proportion of transit goods from Russia, and its position in Europe.

“An eternal problem for Finland is the high logistical costs compared with those of its competitors. Finland is located at the border of the EU area but is very close to the huge markets of Russia,” said Ms Luhtanen.

“Finland’s logistic position and attraction as Russia’s neighbour must be safeguarded, even if countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland gain strength.”

Russia’s GNP was set to grow at an annual rate of 6% and if Finland could maintain and strengthen its logistical pivot its cargo traffic would increase.

Ms Luhtanen said the government wanted to see more AWTs built and “hoped that other major ports in Finland are watching what’s going on in Kokkola”.

The AWT will also give the Port of Kokkola a competitive advantage. The port’s Benelux representative Dick Fraser pointed out that Finland has 50 ports and is likely that the industry will consolidate. “We believe the number of ports will diminish significantly so if we want to be ahead, we have to do something new,” he said.