European port professional of the month: Thomas Bergman

This month, ESPO is talking to Mr. Thomas Bergman, managing director of the Port of Inkoo in Finland. In what follows, you will read more about the energy transition, clean fuels, and the impact of recent European policy initiatives on a Finnish port. Discover the other interesting topics our port pro of the month addressed below!

Can you briefly tell us about the Port of Inkoo? What is the governance model of the port? What are the port’s main characteristics and challenges?

The port of Inkoo is a dry bulk port located close to the capital of Finland and other important locations. It is one of the deepest ports in Finland. The port is privately owned which is an exception in Finland. In the end of 2022, the LNG terminal vessel Exemplar arrived at the port, with the plan to stay for at least 10 years. I think it is safe to say that the port is a key location for import of different energy fuels, such as LNG, wood chips, wooden pellets, coal and petroleum coke. The port is governed by the management team of the company Inkoo Shipping which also executes the stevedoring operations at the port.

What is your long-term vision for the Port of Inkoo? What are the main investment projects for the coming years? Could you briefly describe the importance of these investment projects for the port and the city?

Since the LNG vessel arrived it has become clear that the port needs more quay meters to replace the quay used by the LNG vessel, so the main investment in the near future will be a new quay with everything that a new quay requires. Other large investments are storage space and warehouses.

The location of the port offers large areas for industry establishments with advantages like the main electric grid, 13-meter-deep fairway, not much ice in the winter and close location to the capital and possible workforce. These facts will most probably bring industry to the area, and that will make the port grow in the future.

The port is the biggest taxpayer to the city of Inkoo, and one of the biggest employers, so as the port grows it creates more jobs for the people living close to it.

Are there specific challenges related to being a “Nordic” port? Are there any specific infrastructural requirements that a “Nordic” port needs?

The main challenges are in general related to the cold weather in the winter. The temperature can at times be -30 C°. Besides the obvious ice breaking, I can think of the need to pre warm the work machines (cranes, wheel loaders) when it is cold outside. The water pipes at the quay needs to have the correct valves, otherwise the pipes will break when the water freezes.

Precipitation restricts some cargo operations and may cause congestion. Snow-covered areas generally slow down operations. The port must be prepared to clean areas from snow.

Nordic ports are unique and exotic in comparison to each other. Each port has its speciality and provides a key role to the industry and community. It is of great importance that the operations run smoothly.

In order to get goods to the desired destinations, good hinterland connections to the port are of paramount importance. Can you briefly describe how the Port of Inkoo is connected to its hinterland?

The port is just 4 km from one of the main roads leading to the metropolitan area of Helsinki about 50 km away. There are plans to improve the road from the port, and the railway discussion has started again, since Inkoo is being suggested to become part of the TEN-T network – railway has been a topic of discussion since the sixties.

Is your Port preparing an energy transition strategy? If so, can you briefly present us the main focal points of the strategy? Are you preparing for the arrival of the hydrogen economy? Within the changing energy landscape, what are the business opportunities for your port? What will be the main challenge?

When it comes to our own energy, we are following what is happening in the market. So far, we have made small changes, like installing heat pumps to reduce oil usage for heating and we have installed solar panels. But the main change will be in the future when we find another solution to power the stevedoring machines.

Like I mentioned before, we are a central point for energy import, so we notice the change in imported products, which is happening fast. The amount of coal has decreased and biofuels like pellets and wood chips have increased.

We try to stay on top of what is happening regarding hydrogen, since it will probably be a fuel for the expected industry in the area and possibly an import or export product for the port.

The Port of Inkoo hosts some dry bulk terminals. Are you seeing any impacts from the Russian invasion in Ukraine on the volumes of dry bulk passing through the port? Do you experience the current strong global demand for raw materials in the Port of Inkoo?

When the war started, the import of pellets, wood chips and coal stopped like it would have hit a wall. But our customers quickly found other sources from where to acquire the energy products. The distances became longer, so the vessels became bigger. We also notice that our customers have increased their stock, which means the need for warehouses and storage fields have increased.

The LNG vessel that Finland together with Estonia rented was placed at the port of Inkoo. That is also a direct impact of the war.

ESPO welcomes the recent agreements on the FuelEU Maritime Regulation and the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) which introduce a requirement for ships to use onshore power (OPS) at berth in TEN-T ports as well as in other ports which installed this infrastructure starting in 2030. Does the Port of Inkoo already have OPS or are you planning to install it? In your opinion, what are the conditions for OPS to be a success in a port? How do you see the use of OPS evolving in the future?

We have the possibility to supply electricity at all our quays, but not the higher voltages. We are in the phase of planning a new quay, where we are taking these regulations into account.

This will probably be the direction for the near future. It is also going to be interesting to see if the hydrogen possibilities will impact vessel powering in the long term.

European ports are increasingly investing in digital solutions to improve the efficiency of the logistics chain and port operations. Has the Port of Inkoo taken any initiatives towards digitalisation? 

I would say that we have done a lot of improvements in this area over the last years. We have upgraded our accounting and invoice handling system. The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software has been improved with visual vessel lists with relevant information for stevedoring and agency. Another very important project has been automatization of our truck scale reporting system, to give a few examples.

The Commission proposed a review of the TEN-T Guidelines policy. The importance of a port is nowadays still assessed on the basis of tonnes. Is this still the most relevant criterion? If not, how should it be assessed? How do you see ports evolving in the future?

The tonnes give an idea of how big the port is and thereof an idea of how important the port is. However, a smaller port can be of great importance to a specific area even if it is not big. I think that this can be the case in areas with a low population, for example in Northern Finland. The energy perspective in an important aspect to consider when it comes to the TEN-T regulation.

How did you get into maritime transport? How did your career path lead to this position?

About my background, I am an Engineer within machine and material technology. I upgraded my education to Master level by studying leadership 10 years ago. My former work is within the industry and logistics, my last position before I started to work at the port of Inkoo was Operations Manager for Air BP in Finland.

In 2016 I had a day off work, and I was doing some wood chopping at home when I got a phone call from a head-hunter. He asked if I was interested in working as a Managing Director for a port. I answered “no thanks” and continued the wood chopping. As the day went on, I started thinking about the call, and what that would mean, I had no idea what a Managing Director for a port does. In the evening I called the head-hunter back, and I got into the recruitment process. It took 3 months, and every time the head-hunter called, I thought it was to announce I was out, but that was never the case…