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Vessels only earn money when being productive transporting cargo at sea. Next to planned berthing times for loading and unloading of cargo, the time a vessel must wait outside the port at anchorage mainly determines the duration of the vessel’s port stay.

Focusing on the waterside, the time a vessel spends in the port is the main factor for the port’s service quality. Consequently, a port that is able to reduce or even completely eliminate vessel waiting times, inevitably increases its attraction for shipping lines, freight forwarding companies, and other stakeholders. While this results in a strong competitive advantage for ports with reduced vessel waiting times, those ports struggling with longer waiting times face the risk of losing cargo volumes and, ultimately, revenues and welfare.

Furthermore, vessels anchoring in the roads in front of the port cause unnecessary pollution of the environment. By reducing vessel waiting times, port and shipping lines contribute to reduction of CO2 emissions, what can strengthen a port’s image on the way to become a green port.

The Challenge of Identifying the Actual Bottleneck

Basically, a port can take several measures to counteract vessel waiting times, which mainly can be differentiated in operational and infrastructural solutions. In many cases, it not necessarily has to be a both costly and effortful infrastructural measure such as widening or dredging of access channels or rearranging of berths. From projects with our clients we now, that port operations are often the truly bottleneck hiding an unexpectedly high potential.

Therefore, operational optimisation measures based on the given port infrastructure have an often underestimated effect on harmonising a port’s waterway traffic and, thus, to reduce vessel waiting times. An increase in marine craft resources such as tugboats or pilots can have a greater impact on vessel waiting times than the widening of waterways. Or the implementation of optimised traffic rules supporting the traffic flow of the port can be a superior improvement measure compared to the rearranging of berths.

A huge benefit of improving marine craft resources and traffic flows is their comparably easy integration into to existing port infrastructure and processes. While realisation and commissioning of infrastructural measures most likely will additionally burden the port service level for that time, adaptions in terms of marine craft resources can be seamlessly integrated. For example, for a port in the Baltic Sea we found that a weather-dependent change in vessel passing rules has the highest potential to reduce vessel waiting time, while a more flexible pilot shift pattern led to significant improvements for a port in the Middle-East.

Which of those smart solutions is the best applicable for your port? The challenge is to precisely identify the bottleneck causing vessel waiting times and get it at its root. Congestions within vessel traffic and resulting decrease of the port’s service level will have far reaching consequences for the subsequent port processes. The port vessel traffic is a complex system with various interdependencies between cargo vessels, tugboat, pilots, berths, mooring crews, access channels and other resources as well as stochastic influences such as vessel delays and weather conditions, making it anything else than obvious to identify bottlenecks and to predict the most effective improvement measures.

Simulating Specific Options for Your Port

Where static capacity calculations tend to struggle when a reasonable consideration of dynamic effects is needed, the powerful tool of simulation will find a remedy. Simulation allows to grant insight into your port’s vessel traffic in an outstanding manner, revealing interrelations of causalities that often lie far beyond the obvious.

By consideration of traffic peak situations and the influence of the stochastic effects mentioned above, the dynamic environment of nowadays’ port can be reflected and visualised appropriately.

Another indisputable advantage of simulation is the opportunity to be creative and virtually test essentially any possible measure within real-life scenarios. Investing in simulation projects is minimising the risks of project failure due to rashly made decisions and maximising the chances to take promising measures. At a fraction of the cost for infrastructure measures simulation will bring clarity how to improve vessel service quality most efficiently for your port.

Simulation will help you to improve the service level of your port and, hence, has the potential to enhance your port’s commercial attractiveness towards both existing and future clients.

What is the bottleneck in your port? Feel free to reach out to discuss the options.

See more at: HPC Hamburg Port Consulting – Simulation

About the author

Nils Kemme is Partner and port operations consultant at HPC Hamburg Port Consulting GmbH. He has almost 15 years of experience and extensive knowledge in the field of planning, realising and optimising ports and logistics systems. Combining first-hand operations experience from Hamburg’s container terminals and in-depth simulation know-how, where he also earned his PhD degree, Nils is now heading HPC’s simulation team. As of now, he has over the last eight years planned and optimised port design and operations in more than 35 simulation projects on six continents, including multiple traffic optimisation studies.