WASHINGTON: A captain of one of the world’s largest container vessels recently told me that he typically arrives at a port according to schedule, but too often the port is not ready to handle his ship. This means either anchoring until the port is ready, taking a detour, or choosing to go to another port. However, due to contractual rules, some with clauses that have been in place for centuries, he is frequently legally required to arrive at a specified time, regardless of the port’s readiness. This is not an uncommon situation: our data analysis of arrivals to a medium size port indicates that 20% of all vessels anchored an average 18 hours.
Fuel consumption, and the resulting environmental impact, is highly impacted by speed. For example, a large container vessel consumes around 240 tonnes of fuel daily at a full speed of 23 knots and just 40 tonnes at 10 knots. Arriving before a port is ready is a waste of energy and thus, the optimisation of a complete voyage, including port handling, is essential for efficient shipping, and can result in improved profitability and reduced environmental footprint. In this optimisation, ports play an essential part. Ports are part of a self-organised ecosystem of autonomous actors. Each actor needs to manage its operations – time and space – in co-operation with affected actors’ plans and performance. Examples of port call actors are the port authority, pilots, tug operators, stevedores, and diverse service providers. However, due to limited co-ordination currently, predictability of time of departure is insufficient, creating enormous domino effects. It results in increased charges for the port visit, enhanced stress for the captain to reach the time slot in the next port (i.e. chasing), lacking basis (and in-time) in giving advice to arriving ships, lowered capacity utilisation within ports and more.
To overcome this challenge and inspired by the aviation sector, the concept of Port Collaborative Decision Making (PortCDM) was launched as one aspect of the European Commission-funded Sea Traffic Management (STM) concept, focusing on efficient, safe, and environmentally sound sea voyages, berth to berth. Here, PortCDM was developed to increase situational awareness for present and forthcoming port calls. PortCDM is an event-based system in which standardised time-stamped messages are shared and consumed in real-time among the involved port call actors. These messages reflect the progress of all aspects of a port call.
There are different co-ordination points for actors and associated resources, such as: pilotage commenced, requiring a vessel and a pilot; arrival berth, requiring a vessel, linesmen and an available quay; cargo operations commenced, requiring a vessel, stowage personnel, and loading/unloading equipment; and departure berth, requiring the readiness of a vessel, linesmen, tugs, and pilot. Too many ports are a mosaic of non-interoperable information systems, often dated, that are unable to meet the specific demands of individual autonomous actor in a timely fashion. In some cases, the same system is used in multiple ports, but with different set-up. A reasonable way forward is therefore to enable inter-operability through standardised interfaces between current systems for two purposes; (1) to instantly share port call actors’ plans and (2) to ensure that involved port call actors have shared understanding of current and projected states.
The PortCDM concept is based on an inter-operable platform that enables actors to automatically connect, sharing plans and outcomes. Thanks to the Port Call Message Standard being authorised by the International PortCDM council, the PortCDM platform enable standardised messaging within the port, between ship and port, and between ports, acknowledging differences by trade patterns, for example liners versus spot chartered. While traditionally reporting occurrences at key events, there is a need to share plans to ensure that actors are prepared. The co-ordination of a port call is never better than its weakest link, and thus all core actors need to engage in data sharing to ensure smooth synchronisation. Ports compete for ships and cargo, and enhanced digital collaboration among a port’s terminal operators, port authority, service providers, and shipping lines can increase a port’s attractiveness. It has been forecasted that up to 25% of the time spent during a port call is unnecessary time. Thus, there is a strong incentive for key port actors to join the PortCDM community’s open platform and its supporting open source software.