Port Ops and Vessel Efficiency

Friday, November 04, 2011

According to the United Nations, the world’s population which currently stands at just over 6.7 billion could reach over nine billion by 2050.  This staggering figure will no doubt create a surge in consumerism and a subsequent increase in demand for much larger ships, in order to be sufficiently equipped to support the global trade economy.  Furthermore, the need for bigger vessels is being driven by the shipping companies’ desire to reduce costs, in order to weather the economic storm which still remains a worrying challenge.   Cruise ships are also facing a growing pressure to provide bigger and better vessels which include much grander amenities such as shopping malls and golf courses, to accommodate the increasing number of people taking holidays at sea, with passenger ferries facing similar challenges. 
Although there are obvious benefits to much larger ships such as fuel consumption, the increased risks and challenges which can impact overall operational efficiency of the vessel must not be ig nored. Ian Fraser, Director of BMT ARGOSS, a subsidiary of BMT Group Ltd, discusses the associated challenges and presents a holistic view on the necessary actions needed to be taken, to ensure that these large capacity vessels operate in the most efficient and effective manner and are able to meet future needs.  He also considers the impact this growing trend is having on ports around the world and provides guidance on how best to leverage this opportunity.
The recent order from Maersk for 10 new Triple-E mega-ships, each capable of carrying 18,000 twenty foot containers would certainly suggest that the trend for much larger vesselsis gaining momentum.  Although the benefits of such vessels can be seen as an extremely attractive proposition in terms of economies of scale and reduced fuel consumption, there are increased risks and challenges which must be effectively realized and overcome before we can even think about introducing these ships to our seas. 
First, the risk of collision with other vessels is heightened due to the confined spaces that many of these larger ships will have to navigate through.  The sheer size of these vessels will also create a much more complex operational environment for the crew onboardand more specifically the Captain, whose job it is to manage the safe transition of the ship in and out of port.   Within this environment comes the potential need for more tugs to support the vessel, as well as an increased level of general shore side support infrastructure. 
Additionally, the risk to the environment is noteworthy.  Larger ships mean larger amounts of goods, materials, chemicals or people being transported, therefore the repercussions of such a vessel losing its cargo becomes an ever greater risk to our seas.  Couple this with the desire for ships to operate further afield in order to maximize the commercial opportunities and where operating conditions can be much harsher (i.e significantly higher wave heights and colder waters), it’s no surprise that companies are turning to specialist experts to help them overcome the various issues before construction begins.
Understanding the impact on ports is certainly of equal importance as they are the vital connection between the ship and ensuring the effective flow of international trade and passengers from country to country, therefore accommodating much larger vessels must be duly considered.  Regardless of where the port is situated, there will undoubtedly be a need to analyze and increase the amount of dredging required or introduce new handling techniques and specialized berthing structures.  An enhancement of the mooring capabilities such as ropes and bollards will also be needed and it’s important that the relevant stakeholders develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure that an effective infrastructure is indeed in place.
Tugs, as aforementioned play an important part in supporting a ship’s transition to port therefore if port authorities are looking to support the berthing of much larger vessels, they must also consider the tug requirements to ensure the necessary support can be maintained.  Analysis of the cost effectiveness of having more of the same type and size of tugs already available or introducing larger tugs and their associated environmental impacts and requirements would need to be carried out. 
Never before has the shipping industry been under such intense pressure to address CO2 emissions and energy efficiency.  As a result legislation is constantly evolving with the IMO (International Maritime Organization) as the driving force.  For example, the EEDI (Energy Efficiency Design Index) which took centre stage at the IMO’s 62nd Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) session was finally agreed to be put on a mandatory footing with 49 states voting in favor.  These new regulations are expected to come into force from January 1, 2013 and will apply to all new ships of 400 gt and above.  Therefore, the impact of such regulation must be understood by designers and builders in order to ensure that these proposed mega-ships are fully compliant.  It is for this reason that designers, builders and equipment suppliers around the world are now striving for more efficient and eco-friendly designs.  Classification society requirements will also continue to evolve and revisions to current rules will no doubt be introduced – all of which needs to be addressed by the relevant stakeholders.  The importance of staff training cannot be underestimated.  As these ships continue to increase in size and ports become busier, the risk of incidents such as collisions and groundings becomes even greater.  Bigger ships means more equipment to handle and it’s vital that seafarers are equipped with the necessary knowledge to better understand the complexities in operating such a vessel.  This becomes even more important when operating within challenging environmental conditions, therefore the training must be comprehensive and consider the effect unfavorable weather conditions can have on mega-ships – all of which will help to optimize operability and maintenance and minimize safety risks.  Despite facing an uphill struggle to overcome these challenges, key stakeholders within the shipping industry are taking the necessary steps to address the associated risks.  Port authorities for example, are working with independent experts, including BMT who are providing advice on the apparent effects on moorings from ship to ship interaction.  Traffic analysis is also being undertaken by many ports.  Operators, owners and charterers are now quickly realizing the importance of performance monitoring on board vessels and this need will only become greater when much larger ships are introduced.  Fuel usage and its effect on tightening budgets  is an increasing bugbear and being able to educate your crew on the effects of their actions and how to improve overall operational efficiency can certainly create a win-win situation.
The term energy mapping, in other words monitoring, is becoming increasingly important for cruise ships in particular, due to the vast area of living space on board such a vessel, compared to for example, a container ship which will normally only have a very small living area.  This type of monitoring allows operators, owners and charterers to assess their entire emissions and energy consumed across the ship and help identify where efficiencies can be made.  
In isolation all of the issues are being considered by individual stakeholders. With our use of comprehensive, industry driven, advanced software modelling, environmental modelling and general approach to understanding the core issues surrounding analysis of vessel/portdesign and operation, BMT has the expertise to deal with every aspect of the supply chain. 
Decision Support Systems such as PC REMBRANDT and SMARTSERVICES for each of the aspects considered are becoming increasingly important tools to the industry and fundamental to the education process, from direct training through to performance trend monitoring and analysis. This, coupled with ourhigh quality meteorological and oceanographic services over the 20 years provides us with the enviable position to be able to support all the operational requirements that will arise with the increasing size of vessels.  It will also allow us to provide vital support to the general industry in driving down costs,whilst continuing to operate in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.
 

(As published in the October 2011 edition of Maritime Reporter + Engineering News - www.marinelink.com)

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