Thursday, July 2, 2020

Changing Vessel Call Patterns Due to Covid-19 Create a Paradox in Environmental and Monetary Terms

Bigger Ships and Fewer Visits Can be Beneficial if Handled Correctly by Container Terminals
Shipping News Feature

SPAIN – The recent changes in the patterns of cargo passing through the world's ports, so deeply affected by the conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic has caused those at the BEST container terminal in the Port of Barcelona to review the way freight is handled, and the performance levels required to keep the customers satisfied.

The outbreak has meant a considerable drop in overall port volumes, this associated with a decline in economic activity, and with a large number of blank sailings due to shipping lines’ attempts to align capacity with existing demand. BEST points out however a paradox it has noticed, despite the fact that calls and volume arriving at the terminal have decreased, moves per call ratio have significantly increased.

During May and June, BEST terminal has seen how the number of container moves per call has broken all existing historical records in the Port of Barcelona. Starting with almost 8,000 moves in week 22, all move records have been shattered week after week, until reaching almost 8,500 moves in week 24. This change in demand, with bigger cargo concentration peaks on large deep-sea vessels and coupled with a smaller number of calls, directly impacts on the way box terminals must approach the services they offer.

During week 23, the BEST terminal welcomed the largest vessel to call at the Port of Barcelona, MSC Sixin, with a capacity of almost 24,000 TEUs. Subsequently, similar ships from the 2M alliance have been arriving on a recurring basis covering the route between the Far East and Europe, grouping together all the moves that a few weeks ago were made between different services of the same alliance and which were cancelled due to the exceptional situation we are experiencing.

To satisfy the demands of this new trend, and simultaneously those of the customers, ports must offer productivity per call that exceeds by far the average efficiency seen in container terminals. The Spanish outfit says its investments, both in the number of cranes available and of a size capable of operating these types of ships, and also in the operating system at all levels (equipment and TOS), have made it possible to maintain, on a constant basis, productivity per crane between 35 and 45 moves per hour and with a large number of units working simultaneously on the giant ships.

This has seen as many as seven cranes at a time on each ship, and with an average of five operating constantly during each call, together with productivity levels above 35 moves per hour per crane and sometimes exceeding 42 moves per hour. These levels are far in excess of the average for European terminals, which is normally below 25 moves per hour per crane. It’s a simple equation, work faster and harder and the ships spend less time in port.

With overall efficiency frequently exceeding 200 box moves per hour on a cotainer ship this can cut the vessel’s call time by several days, lowering both port and operational costs for the vessel operator. Additionally to stay on schedule the ship can then move on at a lower speed bringing further savings on fuel in terms of both monetary and environmental costs.

This last is increasingly important to all concerned and therefore responsible ports and terminals which want to stay ahead of the game will also sell themselves on the fact that, by operating with equipment that, for the most part, does not use fossil fuels and applies energy-regeneration technology and thus reduces the environmental impact of maritime traffic, something BEST claims to already be doing, they tick all the boxes for a more sustainable future.