The Complexity of Port Call Operations

The Complexity of Port Call Operations

Port call operations involve a substantial number of actors. Upon reaching the coastal area, the maritime authority is involved, including pilots and tug operators or other supporting nautical services required to bring a ship from a port area to berth. Port providers that deal with port call operations are also there to ensure that everything goes according to plan.

In the figure below the complexity of port call operations and the need for collaboration and synchronization can be seen in the generic PortCDM metro map by Mikael Lind et al.


Image source: Core events and engaged actors in the port call process (Lind et al, 2016

The outline diagram of the port call process indicates a wide variety of services for ship, crew and movement of cargo that have to be in place during a port call and often have to take place over a short period of time. Not shown in the diagram are things like bunkering, maintenance, repair, or customs, all of which only serve to further complicate the overall goal of effective coordination and synchronization. To achieve effective coordination and synchronization, more often than not, requires complex levels of collaboration and communication between crew, owner, agent, terminal and others, including administrative stakeholders such as border control, customs, immigration or port authority. 

Even a simple metro map shown above indicates that nothing is going to be better than the weakest link in the port call process, particularly if every actor acts on their own behalf, pursuing only their own interests. The risk of sub-optimization is high. Collaboration with others in the port call chain is the key to enhanced operations and underpins the PortCDM concept and port call optimization. 

Most ports are also logistical environments. In other words, logistical hubs in the larger transport system, that manage different types of trade and modal changes built around different requirements. Handling and other requirements in container transport are very different from those required for liquid bulk transport. As a result, there are often distinct differences in a port ecosystem with the concept of “ports within the port” being common. 

Traditionally, ships are served on a first-come-first-served basis upon their arrival to a port, which often leads to “hurry and wait” behaviour for ships steaming towards ports. It is also evident that many ports base their organizing logic on serving one predominant type of trade, leaving ships engaged in other types of trade to depend upon the same traditional logic. 

For many, the logic of container transport has become the dominating logic for arranging the schema within a port. Oftentimes this does not respond optimally to the needs of liquid and dry bulk or passenger traffic such as ferries or cruise ships. It is also not desirable that port call processes are completely different for each trade because vessels, regardless of their trade, also need to share common infrastructure, such as fairways into the port. 

Read also: What is Port-Centric Logistics?

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