How to reduce vessel delays on departure?

APMT MVII, Inchcape, Maersk Line

Challenge: Handling bunker activities to reduce delays and idle time

Some 19% of  Maersk Line’s vessels experienced delays at APMT MVII as a consequence of bunkering not taking place at the agreed time. This also presented problems for the terminal, stated Ad van Strien, Planning Manager at APMT MVII. “If a vessel remains berthed for longer than envisaged, we have an idle capacity situation: this means we can no longer optimize our crane capacity. Don’t forget that the biggest container ships take up around half our quays.”

Countless activities take place within the tight windows for loading and unloading of container ships at the terminals, including bunkering. Rotterdam is an important port as it’s often the first or last port of call for Europe. However, Maersk vessels have a tight sailing schedule: there’s hardly any buffer between the ports they call into. If a Triple E vessel (18,000 TEUs) is delayed for a few hours in the Port of Rotterdam, this can result in delays of over a week later on in the schedule. That’s why timely handling of bunker activities is important for both the terminal and the shipping company.

Delays in one bunkering operation impact the bunkering deliveries to subsequent vessels. As well as bunkering, countless other activities take place in handling container ships in a global port such as Rotterdam, including disposal of waste and re-stocking of stores and provisions on vessels. 

Michiel Zeevaart, Operations Manager at shipping agent Inchcape Shipping Services (ISS) knows that bunkering is a complex process. “As shipping agents, we try to coordinate schedules as tightly as possible, with the planned vessel departure time being the leading factor. Our planners rely on up-to-date information on terminal times and nautical service provider delivery times. This generally runs smoothly on the terminal side, but on the supplier side, many improvements could be made.”

Solution: Anticipating delay

The online communication platform PortXchange Synchronizer enables optimization of port calls in the Port of Rotterdam by visualizing the scheduling of all involved parties in real-time in one environment. 

The added value of PortXchange Synchronizer lies in the fact that all links in the chain can compare their schedules in real-time with other parties’ schedules. This enables them to respond much better to unexpected deviations from previously made agreements.

One reality

Synchronizer enables bunker vessels to communicate in real-time their anticipated arrival time at a seagoing vessel. This increases the reliability of the information that we as shipping agents make available to the terminals and shipping companies. “It doesn’t immediately resolve all bottlenecks, but you can take joint action to address any deviations from the planning,” says Michiel Zeevaart. 

Jumelet, Maersk, agrees: “Thanks to PortXchange Synchronizer, we can prevent unexpected developments from becoming a problem. We’re currently often just resolving problems as they occur. If you can anticipate problems in advance, you have space to make adjustments. You need real-time information from the right source for this. Sharing data enables you to create one reality. This increases quality and reliability throughout the chain. 

A great side effect is the environmental benefits that this can deliver. If we know in time that there are delays at a terminal, we can adjust the sailing speed of our vessels that are en route for that terminal. If we reduce the speed of a Triple E vessel a few hours in advance, the savings are tremendous, as it uses less fuel and emissions are lower.”

Result: reduced delays

The Port Authority, APMT MVII, Maersk, and ISS jointly ran a pilot with PortXchange Synchronizer in 2018 targeting delays due to bunkering of Maersk Line’s vessels at the APMT MVII. 

The aim: reduce delays as a consequence of bunkering activities from 19% to 10% over a period of six weeks. 

The result – 0% delay – exceeded expectations. 

Eddo Idzinga, Port Captain Rotterdam at Maersk: “As a shipping company, we used to have no insight into bunker schedules. But we do now, thanks to PortXchange. This enables us to help devise solutions if we see that a bunker delay looks likely. For instance, in some cases, it can be an option to continue sailing to the next port and bunker there.” Michiel Zeevaart: “The notifications in PortXchange Synchronizer are an extra trigger for us as shipping agents. For instance, if the terminal makes changes to the planned departure time a few hours in advance, we know we need to take action.”

‘Thanks to Synchronizer, we can prevent unexpected developments from becoming a problem.’– Maersk

More understanding

Michiel Zeevaart: “This pilot has given us an opportunity to take a look behind the scenes at each other’s processes and, in our opinion, has increased our respect for each other’s challenges. Sharing information in an open and honest way is much more useful than just watching over the fence. Previously, people used to blame us if bunkers weren’t on time, but we don’t have full control of bunker vessels.”

Ad van Strien: “We’d like it if even more service providers and other terminals in our environment would start to share information via this platform and update their data frequently. PortXchange Synchronizer widens our joint horizons. If we only hear 12 to 16 hours in advance that a large vessel will be arriving in 6 hours’ time, we don’t have the flexibility to deploy our cranes efficiently. Synchronizer can also really support the handling of short sea vessels that call at multiple terminals within the port.”

Eddo Idzinga: “The bunker pilot with PortXchange Synchronizer was well organized. We had daily evaluation calls with all stakeholders. It’s also great that Synchronizer was developed using agile methodology. This means you can make quick switches and changes. During the pilot, we discovered some bugs in the system that we resolved immediately. We resolved everything. As Port Captain at Maersk, it’s my responsibility to ensure that our vessels can leave the terminal again as quickly as possible. As well as the bunker supplies, I can envisage using this for other focus areas, including the exchange of vessels. That’s why we’d be delighted to work on further PortXchange Synchronizer pilots.”

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About the case

Vessels were delayed on departure due to bunker activity not being finished on time.


The departure process was changed and a warning from PortXchange indicating bunkers are planned too close to departure was added, enabling all parties to replan on time.
Reduction from 19% delayed to 0% delayed.

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