As the maritime industry grapples with the challenge of decarbonisation, the focus is shifting towards the role of ports in this transformative journey. With ship emissions being significantly impacted by the efficiency of their port calls, there’s a growing emphasis on streamlining operations and leveraging technology to reduce carbon footprints.
Port Call Optimisation
There is no doubt that ports, as interface and service providers to global shipping, play a pivotal role in maritime sector decarbonisation. Ship owners and operators have a remit to reduce the environmental impact of the sea phase of the supply chain, but ship emissions are heavily influenced by the efficiency of their port calls, particularly for vessels conducting frequent cargo operations, and this does not fall exclusively within an operator’s sphere of influence.
The just-in-time (JIT) arrival concept is familiar to the industry, but remains difficult to achieve in practice. Chiefly, this is because there are many independent interests involved in executing port calls, and coordinating them effectively is a complex and multivariate task.
However, JIT and the concept of port call optimisation has gathered political and technological momentum in recent months. Many key ports are now using digitalisation as a gateway to improving efficiency and decarbonising their operations for the benefit of the entire port ecosystem and those benefits are great. Ships benefit from reducing idle time by gaining headroom in their schedules which could be used to reduce speed to the next port of call. Terminal operators and harbour authorities gain by reducing the carbon intensity of each cargo operation and by increasing their cargo throughput over a given period of time.
In June 2022, results were released from a study commissioned by the IMO-Norway GreenVoyage2050’s Global Industry Alliance to Support Low Carbon Shipping, showing that CO2 reductions of up to 14% per voyage were possible through the implementation of JIT. Most of the savings resulted from speed reduction opportunities created by processing and releasing ships back to sea ahead of schedule. Interestingly, worthwhile savings were still achieved if speed optimisation was only implemented in the final 24 – or even 12 – hours of the voyage, with results indicating savings of 5.90% and 4.23% respectively. What this suggests is that fragmented and globally dispersed ports don’t necessarily need to synchronise with each other throughout the course of a protracted voyage, but can operate catchment areas where the speeds of inbound and outbound traffic could be controlled by the proximal port, similar to how traffic control regions work in aviation.
Green Corridor Schemes
Enabling ports to cooperate on managing the traffic between them is a natural extension of this concept. Partnerships have recently been established to create “green corridors” between international sea ports, offering a complete end-to-end JIT solution. The green corridor concept was formalised by the “Clydebank Declaration” signed by 24 member states at the UN international climate change conference (COP26) in 2022. Signatories including The United States, Singapore, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, agreed to seek partnerships between two or more ports aimed at accelerating maritime sector decarbonisation and developing the required future fuels infrastructure. The consortium committed to a minimum of six green corridors by 2025.
Green corridors work by implementing custom regulatory frameworks, sharing information and infrastructure with partnering ports, and devising incentives for shipping to play their part in adhering to participation requirements in exchange for financial and operational upsides.
The Singapore-Rotterdam Green Corridor
Singapore is a major centre for maritime trade and a port of significant global importance to the shipping industry. In 2022, terminals in Singapore handled over 37 million containers and just under 578 million tonnes of cargo. It also remained the largest bunkering port in the world, with sales volumes totalling just under 48 million metric tonnes, despite well-known global economic headwinds.
In August 2022, Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) inked a memorandum of understanding to cooperate with the Port of Rotterdam, the biggest port in Europe, to create a green and digital sea corridor between them.
The Singapore-Rotterdam corridor represents a powerful strategic collaboration which will accelerate low and zero-carbon solutions along the longest sea route to be covered by any green corridor scheme to date. A vital link between Europe and Asia, the project will be seen as a model for further development of digitally-enabled decarbonisation and energy transition frameworks across the globe.
Speaking to Thetius in April 2023, Saskia Mureau, Director of Customer Digital at Port of Rotterdam said, “The ports industry is entering the twin transition period of digitalisation and greening, which is rapidly beginning to merge. Ports are not using digitalisation just for efficiency and thus improving margins, but we’re also using it very much to tackle climate-related challenges.”
The project is working with action partners the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation, the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero-Carbon Shipping, and industry partners such as Shell, BP, CMA CGM,Maersk, and MSC. Much of the development is expected to mature by 2027.
The project is building on three main agenda items; just-in-time port traffic, paperless trade, and streamlining customs clearance, to find ways to harmonise and speed up customer administration.
From a ship operator’s perspective, participation in the green corridor scheme will follow a familiar format, delivered in a more mutually beneficial and user friendly way. Once a berth is booked, the vessel will enter a tracking service which exchanges live information between terminals, synchronising departure and arrival times between ports.
The system will use application programming interfaces (APIs) based on terminology derived from IMO Facilitation Committee (FAL) guidelines. Once an arrival is logged, a user portal will be available to the vessel operator or agent to book port facilities and services based on accurate and dynamic timings, without having to duplicate data entry. At the time of the announcement, then Chief Executive of MPA, Quah Ley Hoon, described how the project would, “accelerate our digital efforts to optimise maritime efficiency and improve supply chain resilience.”
This and similar schemes around the world underline how important it is for all ship operators to review onboard connectivity to ensure that they are able to facilitate the stable, high performance connections needed to take advantage of the emerging JIT paradigm in port call operations.
The advancements in port call optimisation and the emergence of green corridors underscore the maritime industry’s commitment to a sustainable future. By harnessing digital solutions, major ports worldwide are setting the stage for a more efficient and environmentally-conscious era. It’s clear that as we navigate the waters of change, the synergy between technology and collaboration will be at the helm of maritime decarbonisation.