How to boost port call operations

Research confirms that today’s port calls are increasingly inefficient. Cross-industry collaboration and data sharing has the potential to improve fleet and capacity utilization.

April 12 2019

Recent analysis of shipping movements in nine European ports – four ports in the Mediterranean and five ports in the Nordic region – identified that cargo vessels of various types spent only between 60% and 70% of their port time at a berth. Only 40% to 65% of time at berth was used for operations (See Figure 1). Think what could be achieved if we could manage the uncertainty of when ships would be served during a port visit. This would enable higher fleet and capacity utilization with a high degree of predictability for arrivals, cargo operations and departures. The solution is here now and is expected to generate substantial savings and benefits for all involved actors in the global transport chain.

Considering the number of regular port calls made by ships, one might expect that every port call would be mostly repetitive and routine. It should be easy to forecast the different time and spatial dimensions associated with the events of the call. However, ship movement data from Automatic Identification System (AIS) analysed as part of the recently completed Sea Traffic Management (STM) Validation Project shows that, irrespective of the type of transport and the type of port, the time spent in port is not the same and does not seem to follow any clear pattern. It was found that a typical container ship in a Scandinavian port spends between ten and 30 hours for a port call, while it spends between seven and 23 hours in a typical East Mediterranean port. Similar results were observed for tankers (see Figure 2) and RoRo ships. Irregularities or variations in time in port can stem from various causes (see Figure 3). But whatever the cause, these irregular patterns show that trying to forecast the turnaround time for any particular ship’s visit is difficult. This means that it becomes equally hard to forecast a ship’s time of departure or plan when other ships can enter a port and find a vacant berth.

To resolve this, the actors in the port call process need to come together, collaborate, and share data about progress and outcomes. This will enable each port call to be managed and coordinated in a way that overcomes or minimises the potential delays or conflicts for resources that occur today. Overcoming this challenge drove the need to define and validate the concept of Port Collaborative Decision Making (PortCDM).

Enabling data sharing improves operations

Port Collaborative Decision Making (PortCDM) is a concept inspired by the aviation sector where flights and airport operations are successfully and seamlessly coordinated. The concept enables all stakeholders in the port call process to share, in real-time or near real-time, data related to intentions for significant events. In this way, authorised actors obtain a common situational awareness that enables enhanced, synchronised planning. Actors are automatically informed at an early stage about upstream disruptions potentially affecting their operations as well as informing those further downstream. The objective is to facilitate just-in-time arrivals and departures as well as shorter turnaround times. This will lead to a more efficient and cost-effective use of assets and improved predictability of operating and delivery times.

When fully implemented and utilised, PortCDM also provides a continuous system of records, based on reliable reports of planned, revised and subsequent actual events and their evolution. These valuable records can be reviewed and analysed to identify particular inefficiencies and trends, and also to make investment and planning decisions for the future. This will be of benefit to all the actors involved in the port call process.

Cross-industry collaboration is key

A recent validation of the concept has shown that there is considerable benefit to be gained by moving towards a global implementation of PortCDM in all ports, irrespective of what other coordinating mechanisms may already be in place. There are clear advantages for all actors in the marine transportation chain to embrace the concept. Several of the ports involved in the validation are now adopting the principles of PortCDM as a permanent operating practice.

A key part of successfully using PortCDM is to engage all the key actors in the port call process. All need to have a common understanding of where they sit in the transportation chain and the impact that their activities may have on others in the chain. This helps to break down any initial reluctance to share planning data between competitors and help them realise that the common benefits outweigh the possible individual gains of acting separately.

Improved predictability means substantial savings

The validation of the PortCDM concept identified that the potential savings across various aspects of the transportation chain are considerable if the concept is used in operations. For example, substantial savings can be achieved for a shipping company by being served upon arrival and leaving the port according to the predicted time. The improved level of predictability avoids a ship expending additional fuel to catch up in the next voyage leg or suffering further delays by missing a port entry time.

The validation also identified that cargo vessels of various types spent only between 60% and 70% of their port time at a berth. Only 40% to 65% of time at a berth was used for operations.

Improved predictability for operations offers port service providers with potential economic gains. By reducing such things as idle time and last-minute changes to schedules and manpower requirements, conservative savings of potentially 10% were identified.

Studies were also made on the effects on fleet capacity and fleet utilization through the potential reduction in total turn-around times. By reducing the cumulative turn-around time, the number of ships used in port rotation schemas might well be reduced in some circumstances. In addition to the potential savings in port charges for each ship, for a shipping company operating a number of ships in a regular service, this might even allow one ship to be taken out of service if its other ships have spare capacity, or at least enable the shipping line to advertise a faster and more reliable just-in-time delivery service for its existing service.

The validation clearly showed that the optimisation of assets and resources at the port level can be better achieved if port calls are managed under PortCDM principles. If all the involved actors inform each other at the earliest opportunity about their plans and notify any subsequent disruptions in the same way, this allows downstream port call actors to coordinate more effectively. Everyone is kept informed in real-time or near real-time through a common, digital, situational awareness picture prior to, during, and after a particular port call.

In addition to the comprehensive report submitted to the STM Validation Project, a summary of the outcomes of the validation is available in recent Concept Notes available here.

Stay informed