Breakbulk by barge: Trialling an innovative barge solution from Antwerp to Zeebrugge

We’re always looking for new creative ways to support our customers’ logistics needs, which is why we’re trialling a RoRo pontoon barge solution from the port of Antwerp to our terminal in Zeebrugge, with the aim to make the latter more accessible to breakbulk products in the future.


We’ve partnered with pontoon barge operator Victrol on a trial to find a more accessible solution for transporting breakbulk from Antwerp to our terminal in Zeebrugge.

Barge transportation using the inland waterways between these two destinations is nothing new, but by using a pontoon barge that comes with a ramp, breakbulk can be placed on handling equipment such as roll trailers and safely rolled onboard the pontoon without the need for additional lifting.

Manoeuvred by a push boat, the Victrol barges used in the trial are also designed to fit the width of the canals to Zeebrugge port. Over recent years, regular barges have increased in size, often making this type of transportation unavailable and uneconomical to breakbulk OEMs looking to access worldwide deep-sea liner services from Zeebrugge via inland waterways.

An innovative one-stop solution

Liebherr products were successfully transported during the first phase of the trial. After arrival at the terminal of International Car Operators in the port of Antwerp, our teams placed the products safely onto roll trailers which were rolled onboard the Victrol pontoon via a RoRo ramp.

Barge trail in Zeebrugge (3)

Liebherr products were placed on handling equipment so they could be carefully rolled on and off the pontoon barge and secured for the duration of the journey

Barge trail in Zeebrugge (1)

After being placed on handling equipment, the products were safely rolled onboard via the pontoon barge's RoRo ramp, meaning no additional lifting was required

“With this trial, we’re aiming to offer a one-stop solution for customers,” explains Carsten Wendt, senior manager, global industrial account development, Wallenius Wilhelmsen. “In the past the size of barges has meant limited accessibility, so we wanted to respond to our customers’ needs to find a solution for transporting breakbulk via inland waterways – and we hope pontoon barges will enable us to do just that.”

Using inland waterways has always been a more environmentally friendly way to transport products domestically since the share of freight road traffic is reduced.

“Our goal is to create a symbolic inland ‘RoRo water bridge’ connecting the 70Km between Antwerp and Zeebrugge,” says Werner Van Dessel, sales development manager at Wallenius Wilhemsen. “In time, we hope this approach will also take trucks off the road, thereby helping our customers to reduce their emissions.”

As part of the trial for example, over 680 freight tonnes of Liebherr products were transported by barge. To transport the same cargo over road would require about 10 to 12 truck loads.

“Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH and Liebherr-Mining Equipment Comlar SAS were searching for a possibility to connect ​the Port of Antwerp and ​the Port of Zeebrugge by RoRo barge as we did not have a solution to reach Zeebrugge on inland waterways from our factories,” says Benjamin Buchmüller, shipping manager, Liebherr Cranes Ehingen. “Wallenius Wilhelmsen's RoRo barge solution allows us to reach both ports with a single stop-concept and deliver even more cargo by environment friendly river barges.”

Seamless operations in the future

Following the first phase of the barge trial, the team will now evaluate the outcome to determine if this can be offered as a permanent solution.

“By partnering with Liebherr, subcontractor International Car Operators in Antwerp, the barge operator Victrol and the Port Authority of Zeebrugge, we hope that this barge trial will result in a permanent solution offering customers improved accessibility to Zeebrugge, reduce the proportion of trucks on public roads and support our sustainability ambitions,” adds Wendt.

The trial also highlights the potential for effective collaboration between both ports, which will officially merge to become the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in April this year. “This is a compelling example of how the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge can successfully work together in future to strengthen their position in the global supply chain and offer customers better access, competitive solutions for transporting breakbulk,” says Van Dessel.

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