Easing Congestion: Methods for Handling Traffic

Posted by Bob Kessler


According to the US Federal Maritime Commission, port congestion is global and reaching critical proportions. Larger ships, stronger economies, weather-related problems, labor uncertainty and overdue upgrades/expansions to port infrastructure have all combined to generate more port congestion than ever before. At many ports, congestion has become a persistent problem, with vessels frequently forced to wait at anchor for a berth. Meanwhile, ships maneuvering around anchored vessels increase the danger of collisions, and tidal currents and wave action make tightly packed ships in harbor areas vulnerable.

Terminal operators in the oil and gas industry provide one example of how the congestion problem can be tackled. They are using enterprise-class marine terminal optimization solutions to significantly improve industry wide vessel traffic handling capabilities.


Many container terminals in the Los Angeles-San Diego area are reaching 90% utilization, a number considered to be beyond capacity and to assure more gridlock. The problem will only worsen, as larger vessels (of up to 14,000 TEU) contribute to increasing cargo volumes (up 4% over 2013) and longer load-unload times. Berth accessibility, yard and gate operations are stretched to their limits. Terminal operators need to accept this fact and address it.

Terminal automation has generally been slow to arrive at ports, partly due to union reluctance to give up positions to new technology. However, early successes among terminal operators in the petrochemical supply chain have proven the merits of collaborative dock and other process automation tools for streamlining overall terminal operations, reducing costs, increasing visibility and enhancing business intelligence. These tools combine dock management scheduling, reporting and analysis with and Automatic Identification System (AIS)-based vessel tracking service to give terminal operators and other stakeholders continuous visibility to dock. 

Integrated web-based platforms that can perform vessel tracking, management and have analytical tools are now available that are designed specifically to optimize the performance of marine terminals.

Organizations that have implemented these type of tools to optimize key performance indicators (KPIs) throughout their marine tanker terminal operations are providing valuable insights into how today's congestion challenges can be solved.

Optimizing Dock Performance

To reduce congestion at their marine tanker terminals, operators are increasingly using dock idle time, rather than dock utilization (occupied, vacant and outage) as a KPI to measure efficiency. Additionally, operators are monitoring and assessing this KPI using collaborative enterprise-class event logging tools and analytics, rather than paper-based logs.

Dock idle time is the period during which a tanker is alongside and not transferring cargo. Properly measuring dock idle time and establishing a systematic approach for this KPI's data collection, reporting, bench-marking and trending analysis has been proven to significantly improve dock operations and enable terminal operators to work collaboratively with their stakeholders on achieving quantifiable reductions in overall vessel call times.

The dock idle time KPI is actionable and relevant for any operations team that wants an efficiency measurement for vessel call management. Lower dock utilization is a direct result of any dock idle time reduction, and only by measuring dock idle time is it possible to optimize dock operations.

The first step in reducing dock idle time is identifying its root causes by classification of delays and routine events. The first layer of idle time classification is the three distinct periods of a vessel call evolution. The pre-transfer period includes events from vessel notice of readiness (NOR) through managing the vessel arrival. Transfer event periods include events associated with preparing for, performing and completing cargo moves. To better aid in reporting concurrent and consecutive cargo moves on the same vessel call, it should be managed by separate transfer event periods. Finally, the post transfer period encompasses any events that occur after all transfer periods are complete.

Each vessel call event time must be accurately and consistently captured by the dock team in order to facilitate accurate trending. There are two questions that should be asked about the process. First, is it done with a paper log in the dock shack where the primary goal is to comply with local regulations? Also, does the process rely on third parties to manage the logging of dock event times? Either of these approaches is a much greater risk of error, and forfeits the opportunity to exploit valuable information.


Analyzing and Acting on Data

Once the data is consistently collected, it is possible to identify areas where idle time can be reduced. Is one shift consistently beating the benchmark time between Hoses Off and Vessel Ready status? Learn how they are accomplishing this, and establish it as a best practice for all shifts. Or, perhaps there is the opportunity to compare call-out times between third parties as the basis for initiating customer service conversations with clients.

Pay special attention to delays. By categorizing delay start and stop times, terminals can identify what delays are most severely impacting dock alongside time. Once these delays have been identified, look first at the categories which are under the terminal's control and represent the largest piece of the overall delay pie. For instance, is the most frequent delay type the waiting times for tank space? Work with customers to help them be better prepared for the upcoming transfer, and consider charging tenants for dock time if customer-related delays exceed a specific threshold. No matter who is responsible, delays eat into a cargo owner's lay time and have an impact on demurrage costs, which is of great concern to any terminal's current and potential clients.

Implementing a process to measure dock idle time in a consistent fashion with an easy-to-use system can significantly increase vessel calls per year for every dock, and provide the necessary metrics and a collaborative environment for improving efficiency and client relationships. Most agree that more communication between all players at a port - from shippers, terminal operators, unions, and transportation groups - is needed to solve port congestion problems in the long term. With the proven success of enterprise-class class dock process optimization tools used collaboratively by marine tanker terminal operators and their customers, there is already a template in place for tackling the problem.

PortVision 360 AIS Vessel Tracking

Posted on May 18, 2016, 10:30:00 AM

Topics: Tools, AIS, Terminals, Vessel Tracking, Dock Management, Demurrage