“Global logistics chain suffers port bottlenecks”, “Seaports struggling with increase in container vessel sizes”, “Citizen complaints over port neighbourhoods”…
The above list of newspaper headlines could be prolonged endlessly, highlighting that obviously seaports have some technical and organisation problems to deal with. With this in mind, the move by the European Commission to launch a specific port research project within its 6th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development certainly was a good one. The costs of the project are equally shared between the EC and the project consortium, and the Directorate General Research monitors the project, ensuring a high standard of research.
In May 2006 work started within “Effective Operations in Ports”, or EFFORTS as the acronym reads, and in October of this year it will conclude. What can the port industry and its clients, the shipping companies, expect from this research and investigation?
Changes in the port environment
Port technology and operation is not an area that one can look back on as having a long history of research. The industry has always relied on its practical expertise, and the impressive development of European seaports has proved it right. In the past, getting scientists into the boat would probably not have resulted in rowing faster. First came the extreme boom, specifically the container boom, and now this sharp recession currently being experienced is providing challenges where traditional tools appear partly edgeless. The operational environment has changed in several aspects depicted, for example:
- Close-mesh global transport networks are sensitive to volumes and lead-times hence being complex in the scientific meaning of this term
- Inappropriate legacy infrastructure which makes enhancements take a long time and with huge budgets
- In view of the expected changes, statistical data to base investment and development upon has become less robust, as extrapolating the past will not match the future
So when drafting the research specification, EFFORTS faced a situation where it was not possible to simply proceed with work that had been initiated by others, the port industry widely being scientific virgin soil. Investigating the actual needs, however, resulted in the potential of keeping an army of researchers on the payroll for ages. A selection of research targets was required and done according to the interests of the industry and the competence available in the European consortium of 37 partners coming from nine member state countries.