The cause and costs of vessels being delayed at port

CO2 reduction

Around 30% of global shipping gets delayed while in port or between ports, according to the analysis of carrier schedule reliability carried out by analyst firm SeaIntel in 2018. Two years later, this problem remains actual. Surely, this year there have been fewer delays, but simply because the global pandemic slowed down the economy, which resulted in fewer port calls in general. The root of the problem effecting the delays is still not solved.  

The hidden danger of vessel delays is its long stretched domino effect. It is a reality that we never can ignore. It always costs more money, extra maneuvering, risk, and hence additional emissions in order to leave or arrive at the berth on time, or too late, in an endless chain of coming and going of ships in ports, day in and day out. 

The cause of delay and its consequences

Some issues in maritime shipping — such as weather conditions— are unpredictable and thus cause delays. Others result from inefficient port call processes and a lack of collaboration that can be easily prevented. 

Some reasons why ships are delayed:

  • The speed can be either too slow or too fast, vs. the ideal speed. Ideal in terms of economic speed and arrival at the right time.
  • The berth is still occupied by another delayed ship, so the ship cannot be moored on time.
  • Anchoring in front of the port is not always possible, and the ship is idling with engine assisted positioning at sea.
  • The port estuary is congested by other ships and blocking the entrance/exit of the port.
  • Force majeure, such as extreme weather conditions.
  • Lack of optimal communication with the ship, terminal, pilots, and other stakeholders.
  • Failure of Just in Time arrival due to these reasons.

Until most recently and until this day, even the delays are being tolerated as part of the dynamic shipping world and partially paid back in the chain by way of demurrage. However, demurrage is a visible expense for extra time when the charter party dictates that certain time limits are being exceeded. The costs that are not considered for the greater good are a few tons of extra fuel each time, vessel speed changes, anchoring, and emissions of CO2 because of compensation by extra vessel maneuvering. These “few” tons of bunker consumption add up soon to large thousands of tons of unnecessary bunker consumptions and pollution.   

The desktop trial in Just in Time arrival undertaken by the IMO-led Global Industry Alliance members at the Port of Rotterdam shows that delays or early arrivals can be easily avoided. The improved communication between all the participants of a port call, especially during the last 12 hours of the voyage, could decrease fuel consumption by 23%. Hence reduce CO2 emissions.

But not only the shipping lines and carriers bear the costs of delays. All port call participants are affected too. Because of unreliable vessel’s ETA, neither the terminal can optimally utilize its berth, nor the port authority can efficiently use its infrastructure.  

So, what can be done differently?

The long-anticipated change 

The sound of “It has been done this way since the telephone was invented”. 

This sounds familiar, right? Mindsets and tool sets, and tasks versus useful tools. Human behavior is gravitating towards habit since it is so comfortable and disadvantages are being “owned” collectively by paying for it for staying in a collective comfort zone. Most of that thinking and behaving is an unconscious cycle on autopilot. Whether right or obsolete, the comfort is being disturbed by the possibility and advise for new behavior and doing things differently. When the first cars came on the road, most people thought and said that a car would never replace the horse… “in port, the telephone, e-mail and excel sheets will never be replaced by anything else, we have been doing it this way since 1995……” Most of us know better, and we eat a sour apple or three to get over it and learn something new again. The new horizon is dawning with a new set of tools to make work life easier and reduce delays in port. New mindsets always pay off.

Not all delays can be eliminated, but new technologies and digitalization can bring significant improvements. What can and should be achieved is Just in Time Arrival.

JIT Arrival in which a ship maintains the optimal operating speed to arrive at the Pilot Boarding Place when the availability is ensured of: 1. berth; 2. fairway; and 3. nautical services (pilots, tugs, linesmen). The JIT Arrival reduces emissions, saves on fuel and time.

Read our next blog to learn why Just in Time Arrival is the smart thing to do.

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About the author

Willem van Esch
Willem van Esch
Former director of Business Development at PortXchange

Willem is an accomplished Global Entrepreneur who has worked for the past 30 years with enterprises and companies worldwide. Throughout his life he has carried his passion for the shipping industry, and now he pursues it at PortXchange.

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