New UNCTAD report stresses the importance of port call optimisation

The United Nations intergovernmental body for trade and development (UNCTAD) partnered with MarineTraffic to explore which container ports are the fastest, busiest and best connected.

Ports matter to national economies and shape a country’s competitiveness. UNCTAD has long measured port efficiencies through its Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (LSCI). This has now been enhanced through the use of MarineTraffic AIS data. UNCTAD has developed a new comprehensive table that features port calls by country, the typical turnaround time as well as the average size and age of ships. The first year of coverage is 2018, with updates scheduled every six months. According to the MarineTraffic data, containerships have the lowest port turnaround times. In 2018, any given ship spent a median of 23.5 hours (0.97 days) in ports. However, in 2018, dry bulk carriers typically spent 2.05 days during a port call, while container ships spent on average the least amount of time (0.7 days). Performances ranged between 0.23 days in the Faroe Islands and 6.5 days in the Maldives.

But how do ships and ports go about improving their performance?

According to the UNCTAD report top of a list of three suggested measures to help improve port performance was port call optimisation.

Port call optimisation is fundamentally about maximising the efficiency of a vessel port call in order to improve safety and reduce costs. Efficient port calls mean reduced fuel burned from ships and less CO2 emissions, as the report states:

“Ships should only arrive at the right time, i.e., when they need to arrive, as arriving too early implies additional costs in ports, and sailing at unnecessarily high speeds would generate more air emissions including carbon dioxide (CO2). To arrive on time rather than in time is the aim of port call optimisation initiatives. Making use of digitalisation means that data will need to be exchanged between shipping lines, ports, shippers and intermodal transport providers.”

An important driver for the optimisation of port calls is that relevant data between ship and port is shared in advance. This enables better planning of berth occupation, availability of equipment, labour resources, as well as stowage planning and the subsequent distribution and delivery arrangements for goods.

UNCTAD also notes that facilitation and port operations need to be factored in. The report notes:

Facilitation: Once a ship arrives at a pier, operations should start immediately, without having to wait for authorities to clear paperwork. The FAL Convention of the International Maritime Convention can help as far as the vessel is concerned, while the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement of the World Trade Organization can help speed up the process of cargo clearance, including measures such as customs automation, pre-arrival processing and border agency cooperation.

Port operations: Fast and reliable loading and unloading operations require investment in infrastructure and superstructures, as well as technological and human capacities. Privatizing port operations and assets can help, but needs to be planned carefully with public and private sectors’ roles clearly delineated. Total logistics costs need to be taken into account when considering such investments.

To read the full report or to check out who has topped UNCTAD’s most recent best-connected port list, visit the links below.

Full Report: Container ports: the fastest, the busiest, and the best connected

UNCTAD’s 2019 ranking of the world’s best-connected ports

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Bill Lines
Bill is a director of London based maritime public relations firm Navigate PR and has been working with MarineTraffic since 2013.