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Drewry: Who Will Pay for the Revolution?

Drewry Maritime Research has released a study into how the port industry will combat the demands of carriers with increasingly large ships, arguing it will take revolution, not evolution in container port handling technology to progress.

In its Container Insight Weekly, Drewry point out how Maersk Line CEO Soren Skou has complained that whilst ship sizes in the Asia-Europe trade have doubled, port productivity has not, with ship time in port per round voyage increasing 50% from 12 to 18 days.

Drewry argue: “The simple fact is that while overall berth productivity does increase with ship size, it does not increase directly in line… For example, the 19,000 TEU vessel is nearly 50% bigger than the 13,000 TEU vessel, but the berth moves per day is only 20% higher.”

The globe’s largest vessels have currently reached a plateau of around 400 metres in length and this means that the number of gantry cranes deployed cannot be increased in direct proportion to increased ship sizes.

Another factor is that handling ever larger ships involves using gantry cranes which are higher and have longer outreaches, meaning that the trolley has to physically travel further per cycle between the quay and the ship’s hold, making it harder to maintain the number of crane moves per hour.

However, this is what Drewry term as “evolutionary change” based on the same basic gantry crane concept used since the first Paceco crane was introduced in California in 1959.

Drewry argue: “There is a general consensus in the industry that 3,000-3,500 moves in 24 hours is a realistic top end performance for a large terminal handling large ships.

“Yet… in order to meet the industry target of 6,000 moves in 24 hours demanded in 2011 by Maersk Line’s then CEO, Eivind Kolding, a 19,000 TEU vessel would need to have 8 cranes deployed, each working at 35 moves per hour instead of 25, generating a berth productivity of 280 moves per hour.

“This in effect is the doubling of port productivity that Mr. Skou is calling for but no port in the world is regularly and consistently achieving a performance level anywhere near this figure.

“A revolution in container handling is required, a game-changer, the port industry equivalent of the ‘double-decker jetway’.”

The Drewry View: Bigger ships are spending proportionately more of a round voyage in port than their predecessors. To meet carriers’ demand for markedly higher port productivity requires a fundamental change in the way that containers are handled. Innovation is always risky and costly though. Who is going to pay to design, test, develop and implement the ‘double-decker jetway’ for ports?