There is a good measure of mystery surrounding life at sea. For all the salt-ridden stories and vagaries of putting yourself at the mercy of the elements, one has to admit that a voyage at sea is very predictable (you are trained to make it so)…until you reach port! The rigmarole of getting in and out of port is invariably the most unpredictable part of the voyage. So much so that every time a vessel drops off her pilot on departure, there is a literal stretching of legs and sigh of relief from every sailor onboard!
This unpredictability stems primarily from the lack of coordinated information being relayed in every aspect of operations across the spectrum of port users. Just-In-Time (JIT) arrival is a well-established concept amongst supply chain practitioners and pretty much ubiquitous in manufacturing. Our previous blog quite accurately sums up the benefits of Just-In-Time arrival and why the shipping industry collectively should capture value from this low hanging fruit. There is a multitude of reasons why this is not pervasive in the shipping industry yet. Some parties in the logistics chain need to take steps in this direction to set the tone and port authorities are, in my opinion, on top of the list.
Every player in the maritime logistics chain is very much dependent on a timely and logical flow of information from an adjacent player that would trigger a set of actions. This flow of information is, often, critical in operational decision making. For a vessel calling a port, it starts with having information on berth availability as well as information on availability of resources (infrastructure, personnel and ancillary assets like tugs) for her passage to the berth in relation to the current/expected navigational conditions of the port. The provision of these shared resources to the users of the port (and ships), is often under the purview of the Port Authority. The port authority is in a unique position to be the only party in the chain whose actions (and strategies alike) affect every other party, in different measures but affect. There are, of course, different models of port administration and management viz. public service port, tool port, landlord port and private port. The socioeconomic structure prevailing in a country often determines which model is adopted. The roles and functions of a Port Authority vary with each model, but two unshakeable functions that remain across the board is to facilitate unhindered trade and ensure the safety of a port’s users. Let’s analyze these two functions in the context of JIT.
Safety of life amongst the port users and, consequently, safety of navigation within port limits is a port authority’s paramount responsibility. JIT arrivals is an effective way of reducing congestion in anchorages and in the absence of designated anchorages, reduce congestion in drifting areas. Maneuvering a mammoth box of steel with six degrees of motion around other similar mammoths and a plethora of navigational hazards is a lot of fun, stressful at times and mariners take a lot of pride in it. A risk of collision always hovers, though. The key question here is – Is it safe for all the users of the port to be exposed to this risk? A risk that is quite effectively contained to a large extent (mitigated in some cases) with JIT arrivals.
The second aspect relates to the facilitation of unhindered trade that supports the economic purpose of the port. JIT arrivals allows the port authority to spread the load on infrastructure and personnel more evenly. The current pandemic has taught us a lot about peak loads and flattening the curve but the shipping industry is no stranger to these concepts. In the industry, operations personnel often allude to optimised capacity planning, which is exactly what JIT arrivals facilitate. Service levels and operational efficiency of individual tasks at every step of the port call will improve, which drive shorter port turnarounds. And this translates to trade competitiveness, which becomes crucial for businesses in deciding which ports are the more reliable and efficient in servicing their supply chain needs.
There is a third aspect – that of the environment and the emissions generated by ships en route to the port and whilst within port limits. We all know how relevant this discussion has become and the urgent need for concerted action to get tangible results. The port authority being the body responsible for setting policy, could use JIT as a means to reduce emissions. This can be achieved not only from ships but also from users like tug boats, pilot launches, service boats as it reduces their activity time to only what is essential in proving the service. JIT arrivals, very obviously, reduces emissions from ships within port limits (important when considering emissions with localized impact – SOx / NOx) and also emissions from ships whilst en route as well because the ships can reduce their speed to the most economical speed, thereby keeping the fuel consumption to the most optimal level. This helps in lowering the total GHG emissions (global impact) per voyage significantly. Let’s not forget the ship’s speed to fuel consumption relation is not a linear one, it’s a quadratic function (to keep it simple!). On a typical laden-VLCC, a 2-knots reduction in speed from 14.5 knots to 12.5 knots could easily translate to fuel savings of 25 MT per day (and 78 MT CO2)!
Lastly, the port authority in any port, regardless of its administrative structure, is the one party that all users of the port look up to set a direction, strategy and goals for port wide adoption. Port Authorities supporting and taking implementable measures for JIT arrivals sends a clear message to the industry of where the priorities of the people lie. The impact of “Authority” cannot be taken for granted. As a wise man once said – With great power comes great Responsibility!