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Fuel a more sustainable future

Port of Bilbao record season End-of-year figures for total traffic stand at 32.7 million tonnes, up 1.5 million (5.1%) on 2021 figures and 3% higher than the average of all state-owned multi-purpose ports.

Traffic has not yet returned to pre-pandemic figures but, with the stevedoring agreement reached and signed for the next six years and the investments and public and private projects underway, the foundations have been laid for sustained growth and for Bilbao to become a more competitive port, to attract new traffic, to extend its hinterland and to be ever more sustainable.

The positive trend in total traffic can mainly be attributed to the 15% increase in liquid bulk, largely driven by the global energy scenario and clearly highlighting the relevance of the port of Bilbao as an energy hub. Crude oil and gas occupy top spot in general traffic, up 30% and 34% respectively.

Conventional general cargo increased by 2%, while containerised cargo fell by 4.5% due to the slowdown in the economy, especially in Europe and, in particular, in the United Kingdom, which continues to be the port's main market. This downturn is slightly less than that of the port system in general (a little over 5%), despite the road transport strike which also had an influence on the negative end-of-year figure.

Solid bulk is down 19%, due to the fall in cement and clinker and limestone sand, though this traffic has been recovering in the last few months. Once again this year, the growth in ro-ro traffic (+16%) and, within so-called project cargo, wind power components (+20%), is to be highlighted.

In terms of vessel size (gross tonnage), 2022 saw a 24% increase due to more oil tanker, gas carrier and cruise ship arrivals. By markets, the United States, Brazil and Iraq are the fastest growing countries, while traffic with Russia fell by half.

In terms of FORECASTS for freight traffic in 2023, although economic and geopolitical uncertainty persists, positive figures are expected for liquids and dry cargo. Following the signing of the stevedoring agreement and the increase in promotional and commercial work, new business will gradually be attracted, as Bilbao is a more competitive port with no labour unrest. Likewise, in March, all Brittany Ferries ro-ro services will be resumed, with larger capacity vessels running six ferry services per week with the United Kingdom and Ireland (four of them also with passengers). The Finnlines ro-ro vessels providing the service with northern Europe will also have increased capacity.

Finally, in February of this year, the Ellerman City Liners shipping company started a direct weekly service between Bilbao and the east coast of the USA for container transport.
Record number of passengers and cruise ships.

In 2022, 214,028 people travelled on board ferries or cruise ships to or from the port of Bilbao, a record figure that represents an increase of 190%. Half of these passengers were cruise passengers arriving at the Getxo terminal, whilst the other half were people travelling to or from the United Kingdom or Ireland from the Brittany Ferries terminal in Zierbena. 163 ferry crossings (14 more than in 2021) and 78 cruise ships (64 more compared to the previous year) arrived at the port. FORECASTS for passenger traffic for 2023 are excellent, with this year’s figures expected to be exceeded.

4,243 trains entered or left the port of Bilbao, 2.6% less than in the previous year, mainly due to the fall in container traffic. Even so, 27% of containers already enter or leave the port by rail.

In 2022, considerable progress was made in the management of rail-port traffic. On the one hand, the Port Authority is now assuming the management of rail traffic in the port, and is taking on manoeuvres and shunting tasks that had been previously been performed by ADIF, with a view to providing a universal, neutral and competitive service 24/7. The next milestone for the Port Authority will be to reach a management agreement with ADIF, whereby the Port Authority will take over the operation of the rail container terminal so as to make further progress in integrating it into the port infrastructure and further develop the port's intermodality.

Likewise, at the end of 2022, the Port Authority approved its Railway Safety Management System, currently in the implementation phase, for use to mitigate the risks inherent to railway activity within the service area.

At the same time, the initial works to build a new 750-metre-long siding at Orduña station were awarded in December. The overall cost of the works is EUR 10.87 million, to be financed, on the one hand, by the Port Authority of Bilbao, with around EUR 3 million from the Inland Port Accessibility Fund, and the rest by ADIF (Spanish Administrator of Railway Infrastructure). The works will not only speed up and improve the operation of freight trains between the port of Bilbao and the Meseta (Castilian Plain), but will also benefit passenger trains.

Though these improvements are important and represent progress in intermodality, the priority for the Port Authority is the increasingly urgent construction of the southern rail bypass for freight trains.

Turnover amounted to EUR 64.9 million, compared to EUR 63.1 million in 2021, up 2.8%. This increase of EUR 1.8 million is the result of the recovery of port traffic as, in order to support competitiveness, port charges have not been increased despite average inflation of 8.4% in 2022 and 3.1% in 2021 (data from the Spanish National Statistics Institute). Consequently, the increase in turnover is solely due to the gradual recovery of activity, with no changes in prices for users and customers of the port.

Debt with the European Investment Bank stood at EUR 45.3 million and liquidity at EUR 37.2 million, with bank debt net of cash amounting to EUR 8.1 million (equivalent to 0.3 times EBITDA). Cash and cash equivalents (EBITDA) stood at EUR 29.1 million. The company maintains an adequate debt profile, having invested around EUR 1 billion over the last 30 years. This financial autonomy will enable it to make new investments in the fields of energy transition, digitalisation, infrastructure, intermodality, innovation and port-city activities.

To partially mitigate its economic impact, a grant portfolio of EUR 30 million is being managed for investments totalling EUR 77 million (with an average co-financing rate of 38%). The projects which have been awarded grants are outlined below: BilbOPS: an investment of EUR 47.5 million, 30% (EUR 14.2 million) of which is co-funded by the EC through the CEF Transport 2021-2027 programme. The project has also secured a EUR 5 million grant for the new A5 Quay through the Recovery and Resilience Facility, and includes a PV power plant for self-consumption. Sewerage System Network Phases I and II: with a budget of around EUR 18 million, 50% of which is funded by the Port Authority of Bilbao through the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Bilbao PortLab: with a view to creating an innovation ecosystem, Bilbao PortLab has enabled and supported 28 ideas, pre-commercial and commercial projects for start-ups and companies currently in the implementation phase, the investment budget for which stands at EUR 6.3 million with approved subsidies of EUR 3 million. The subsidies have been awarded through the Ports 4.0. programme, run by Puertos del Estado (Spanish State Ports Authority), the Galatea Innovation Support Mechanism, in collaboration with the Mobility and Logistics Cluster of Euskadi, the Hazitek programme of the Basque Government, and the grants programmes of the Bizkaia Provincial Council, managed by BEAZ.

In addition to the grants awarded to date, the Proactive Port Forum has been set up, together with representatives of the port community, to work on new strategic projects in the areas of energy transition, basic infrastructure and digitalisation.

Investment by the Port Authority of Bilbao in 2022 in these areas amounted to EUR 34.6 million, with planned investment figures of EUR 43.6 million in 2023. Many of the actions planned are geared towards strengthening the Atlantic axis and generating activity in the Cantabrian hinterland. Prominent among these actions is the creation of land, given the demand from the business world to locate in the port and/or to expand existing facilities in the port.

In this sense, extension works on the AZ1 Dock will be completed in the spring, providing 50,000 m² of new land and a 251-metre berthing line. Required investment amounts to EUR 27.4 million. The paving works will be put out to tender this year and will be completed by the end of 2023.

In January, the Port Authority launched a public tender for the award of a concession for the construction and operation of a maritime container terminal on the central breakwater. The deadline for submitting bids is the end of April, and the award is expected to be announced in the summer.

To improve accessibility, eleven new lay-bys came into service in October on the N-240 road between the towns of Zeanuri and Bedia, going towards Bilbao. This was made possible through a collaboration agreement signed between the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the Port Authority, to improve the accessibility of a road with a high intensity of heavy traffic. Investment costs for this project, funded by the Port Authority of Bilbao, amounted to EUR 2.7 million. Likewise, in December 2022, the works to improve the N-644 road as it passes by the Iberdrola thermal power station intake in Santurtzi were awarded. The works will be completed this year with a budget of EUR 2.1 million.

A stand-out initiative in the field of port-city relations is the provision of EUR 1 million, over four years, for improving the urban environment in the town of Santurtzi. The first such project, which started in January of this year, is the construction of a new footbridge over the ADIF railway tracks to improve accessibility and safety.

Innovative projects in the field of sustainability: dock electrification, PV power plant, sewerage system, vessels and decarbonisation hub.

With the aim of making Bilbao a more sustainable and, at the same time, more competitive port, the Port Authority will tender in the coming months the first phase of the BilbOPS project for the electrification of docks to enable vessels to connect to the power grid and thus switch off their auxiliary diesel engines. The first electrified docks will come into service in 2025. This project includes a 4.2 MW PV power plant for self-consumption purposes. The planned budget is EUR 52.5 million.

Another major sustainability project is the improvement of the sewerage system of some docks, as a result of a collaboration agreement signed between the Basque Water Agency (URA), the Bilbao Bizkaia Water Consortium and the Port Authority. The planned overall investment of around EUR 18 million will be covered jointly by URA and the Port Authority. The first of the three phases is about to start and the second is about to be awarded.

With regard to shipping companies, Brittany Ferries and Finnlines have opted to include more environmentally friendly vessels on their routes. Brittany Ferries has incorporated the LNG-powered ferry-cruise Salamanca into its line with the United Kingdom, and will soon do the same with the Galicia on its service to Ireland. Similarly, Finnlines, of the Grimaldi Group, has added three of the most efficient ships in the world to its service with northern Europe and the Baltic, with the latest generation of electronically controlled engines and an exhaust gas purification system to reduce sulphur and particulate emissions. The vessels are equipped with lithium batteries and solar panels.

Two other private sector developments within the port, both taken forward by Petronor/Repsol, are the commissioning of the first terminal for the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the port of Bilbao, and the ceremony last May to lay the first stone of the works to create a decarbonisation hub. In the first case, investment amounts to EUR 10 million and is co-funded by the European Commission through the CEF-Connecting Europe Facility Programme. In the second case, the facilities will include a plant for the production of synthetic fuels, the construction work on which will last for the next two years and is expected to involve an investment of EUR 103 million.

Haizea Wind Group is expanding its facilities by 57,283 m² to enable it to manufacture XXL monopiles, large steel structures used to anchor wind turbines to the seabed. The project includes the construction of warehouses and the fitting out of storage areas for the parts manufactured at its plant to be exported by sea. The company anticipates an investment of around EUR 150 million in warehouses, machinery, etc., with a multi-annual timeframe (2022-2025).

For its part, Consignaciones Toro y Betolaza has expanded its terminal for conventional and ro-ro cargo on Docks A6 and A5, which includes the construction of a new warehouse. Total investment has amounted to EUR 5 million.

Finally, the terminal Depósitos Portuarios, S.A. (Deposa) has also invested EUR 1 million in the construction of six new storage tanks for agri-food and agri-fuel liquid bulk, each with a capacity of 2,000 m³. Four more tanks are scheduled to be built in 2023.

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