Busy port of Antwerp

finding opportunities for port call optimisation


The commercial shipping industry is under increasing pressure to enhance its green credentials, lower costs and improve service levels to customers. Whilst this might seem like a challenge, we think it’s actually a huge opportunity to increase efficiencies and introduce new innovative technology to an industry that is well on the way to complete digitalisation.

We’ve analysed the various elements embedded in the port call process and highlighted the areas for opportunity. By implementing applications or hardware for crew, it’s entirely plausible to mitigate many of the key areas that cause delays during the port call.

1. Anchorage

Unless you’re operating tankers or reducing the draft of your vessel, most time spent at anchor can be classed as ‘idle time’.

Reducing idle time caused by port congestion is the first optimisation opportunity for shipping companies and ports. Implementing sea traffic apps that cover all of the major global ports can ensure a greater level of planning and scheduling, mitigating the risk of idle time.

2. Pilotage

With email, the booking of pilots for a ship has never been simpler. Some ports use VHF to confirm pilot boarding times, which means most ships can only know of a boarding time when they are within radio distance (a range of approx 24 miles).

At this point, the ship may have already burned unnecessary bunkers to reach the pilot boarding ground for unfeasible boarding time. The ship will then have to anchor or stop and drift until their boarding time.

3. Tugs

The powerful workhorses of the harbour, tugs are costly and in high-demand by all users. The demand can mean that an inbound vessel might not have the correct number or power of tugs available to assist with berthing. This can cause delays in waiting for tugs to become available or for a pilot and master to decide to go ahead with berthing with unsuitable tugs.

As vessels increase in size, the need for the multiple tugs means that communication and synchronisation is key to not losing time with berthing operations.

4. Lineworkers

One of the more dangerous tasks in berthing is the use of lineworkers to drag heavy, water-laden ropes or wires onto a shore bollard or dolphin. Due to the varying standards of equipment available to lineworkers, delays can be experienced which the vessel has no control over.

However, delays with lineworkers can be avoided by ensuring the shore based team are ready for the vessel prior to arrival, thus mitigating the risk of the vessel having to anchor and wait. Greater communication is essential for this element of the port call.

5. Berthing

Delays during berthing are almost guaranteed with issues arising from environmental factors such as weather, visibility, current, tide and berth depth, to man-made obstacles including waiting for barges to leave a berth, navigating locks and moving the berth position to cater for optimum cargo operation conditions.

The implementation of a coordinated berthing operations approach is a fundamental opportunity when thinking about port call optimisation. The benefits of a berthing strategy include reduced vessel waiting times, optimisation of the shipping schedule and improved communications between all parties.

6. Cargo Operations

In almost all circumstances the primary purpose for the port call is to undertake cargo operations and it’s in this instance that the most significant and costly delays can arise. Monitoring cargo loading and discharging is currently a manual process using paper logbooks and prone to human error.

The CargoMate device acts as a digital port logbook and communications tool for the ship, giving the ship’s officers, management ashore, and any other stakeholders in the port call complete visibility of operations in real time. The system also assists officers in the safe loading of dangerous goods and reefer containers, ensuring they are in the right place on the ship and at the right temperature. CargoMate predicts the completion time of cargo operations, notifying stakeholders of delays and early sailing opportunities.

7. Bunkering

To maximise the bunkering time and minimise the workload across successive ports, bunker operations may consist of several barges with different fuels, lubricants and water being worked consecutively.

Traditionally this task was managed using email or speaking directly to the port, however, there are now bunker applications that can simplify the process and ensure timely notifications are sent to all key stakeholders before the vessel arrives in port.

8. Port Delays

Whilst the vessel is alongside port, there are multiple factors that could cause delays. The late arrival of stores, crewmembers, documents and manifests can impact the scheduled departure time. There are factors within the port itself that may be beyond the vessel’s control, such as waiting for lock times, adequate channel depth or other port control restrictions.

Communication is key to reduce the risk of delays caused by this broad spectrum of events. Pilot schemes are currently underway in the port of Antwerp focusing on a vessels’ ETA into port and the efficient onward transportation of containers and their required documentation.

9. Unberthing
As with berthing, the unberthing procedure can require tugs, linesmen, pilots, mooring boats and other stakeholders for coordination. Synchronisation of a shared plan between all key stakeholders is vital to minimise the unberthing operation time and ensure that the time savings already amassed through the implementation of the above, are preserved.
10. Weather
Affecting all parts of the voyage, weather conditions can cause major disruption to schedules, even when the weather disruption has passed, there will be knock-on effects as port operations clear the backlog.

To combat this weather applications now include vessel tracking, port logistics, scheduling shipping movements, optimising berth use and reducing cargo transit delays, berth updates and monitoring and predicting dynamic under-keel clearance. Harnessing insights into port delays caused by weather can enable vessels to adjust their speeds accordingly and reduce fuel consumption.

Shipping has never been more connected, but the lack of communication between stakeholders can mean unplanned delays and costs estimated to be over $150bn per year. At present, if a vessel is behind schedule then she may need to sail at a higher speed than is optimal to reach her destination, wasting bunkers and increasing her CO2 emissions. Whilst high-speed voyages can be avoided in favour of options such as amending schedules and omitting ports from a route, they are not completely avoidable.


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Busy port of Antwerp