‘Meet in the middle’ on port call optimisation

An interactive panel discussion on port call optimisation was hosted by IHS Markit and the IAPH in London. Credit: IHS Markit

Regulators and ports need to ‘meet in the middle’ to make port call optimisation a reality and build an environment with greater collaboration and trust – this was the consensus from leading maritime experts at an interactive panel discussion on port call optimisation hosted by IHS Markit and the International Association of Ports & Harbors (IAPH) as part of London International Shipping Week.

Port call optimisation is the process by which the maritime logistics chain can facilitate just in time (JIT) arrival and quicker turnaround of vessels at port berths. The topic has been increasingly in the spotlight in ship and shore stakeholder discussions, spurred by the ambitious 2050 decarbonisation targets set by the IMO and also increasing digitisation of the maritime sector.

Keynote speaker Camille Bourgeon, technical officer at the IMO, highlighted the fact that port call optimisation and the ability for vessels to slow steam is an easy win for the IMO’s greenhouse gas emission targets for 2050 and that the organisation was already taking a bigger role in creating regulations for port operations, such as FAL (single maritime window), waste reception facilities, and more. The other keynote presenters, captain Ben van Scherpenzeel (director, Nautical Developments, policy and plans at the port of Rotterdam) and Turloch Mooney (senior editor, global ports at IHS Markit), stressed the need for increasing co-operation between various stakeholders to move the conversation forward.

Although there are still issues to be resolved around data sharing; standardisation of terminology; variations in capabilities within vessels, ports, and other stakeholders; and established speed agreements in charter contracts, Scherpenzeel, pointed out that the task force for port call optimisation (of which he is chairman) was a perfect platform for greater stakeholder engagement, while Mooney was able to use IHS Markit data from the company’s Port Productivity Project to demonstrate the commercial benefits of optimising port calls – which would be the biggest factor driving adoption of this operation.

During a lively panel debate, Patrick Verhoeven, IAPH managing director, said that while a clear IMO framework for port call optimisation and JIT operation was “absolutely necessary” in terms of offering guidance and leadership to the shipping industry, “we need a ‘bottom-up’ approach to show stakeholders how to get the concept promoted further”.

International Harbour Masters Association secretary Sabrina Delelis agreed that a broader and simplified information campaign around port call optimisation would be needed. “I think there’re some small ports where it’s not even come up in conversation,” she said.

Nick Cutmore, secretary-general of the International Maritime Pilots’ Association, concurred that “we have to be able to accommodate a huge spectrum and not the big players [in the container sector], who have bought into the exercise”. Referring to smaller stakeholders in the port and terminals sector, he added, “if we can’t communicate with the vessel, JIT will remain in the future”.

Port call optimisation is a growing IMO priority in light of its potential to contribute to greenhouse gas reduction in shipping, but Verhoeven and many of the participants framed the drive for improved JIT operations in the context of improved outcomes for operators and terminals. “The essence of a port is to add value,” Patrick Verhoeven said. “The emissions context provides the political momentum, but in essence it’s about the core business of adding value and offering an efficient product.”

Referring to IHS Markit port productivity data for the period 2016–18, Mooney observed that “call sizes are growing quite enormously and outstripping ship size growth by quite a large margin, and we don’t see berth productivity keeping pace with that”. Pressed by session chair Namrata Nadkarni (head of content, maritime publications at IHS Markit) on whether automation would help address this escalating challenge, Mooney said that “the bigger gains are around cross-industry stakeholder collaboration, data sharing, and better communication in general”.

The discussion of port call optimisation is set to continue during the IAPH World Ports Conference 2020, held in Antwerp, Belgium, on 17–19 March 2020 and presented by IHS Markit. The port of Antwerp is the host sponsor for the three-day IAPH conference, which will bring together leading ports, their customers and stakeholders, as well as regulators in a world-class interactive event. The goal of the event is to imagine and deliver a future where ports lead on the key topics of energy transition, data collaboration, reputation management, and business innovation.