The development of existing port infrastructures have often been unable to keep pace with the need for increased shipment sizes, the necessity for faster and more efficient cargo handling operations, or with the growth in demand of raw materials worldwide.
Port improvements are being implemented and a number of port projects, especially in China will be completed in the next two years. The Indian market, which is traditionally dominated by geared tonnage, is slowly gaining ground in the port infrastructure sector as well.
What may happen is that ports at the receiving end may have been sized up to something which the sourcing port cannot satisfy with par efficiency or size, simply because the equivalent infrastructure is not there. The time is now ripe for shippers and receivers to look at modern floating systems as cost-effective alternatives to the construction of shore based facilities.
The freight component of the total delivered cost is significant for commodities such as coal and iron ore, especially where they need to be transported over long distances from the producer to the consumer.
The benefits of improved economies of scale in order to reducethe unit cost of transportation can be attained by:
1. Increasing vessel deadweight cargo capacity: The trend towards the utilisation of larger vessels is clearly driven by the benefits of achieving lower transportation costs on a per tonne basis compared to smaller carriers.
2. Reducing vessel idle time: Economies of scale are essential in scaling down costs. During the last decade ship-owners have decided to join trading networks and contract portfolios in an attempt to minimise vessel ballast time, thus resulting in the maximum economic results for vessel voyages.
3. Minimising port turnaround time: A sea going ship requires fast dispatch by the shore and waterway transport facilities that are supplying and taking away the raw commodity. As all industries are under stress from high C&F prices for commodities, any saving that can be made in freight costs enhances the competitiveness of both the end user and the supplier. Let us now look at some of the transhipment options available.
Indonesia is the third largest coal producer worldwide. Except for the Sumatra based producer P.T. Batubara Bukit Asam, Indonesia’s mines are scattered throughout East and South Kalimantan. The industry has very limited port infrastructures that can be utilised by more than one producer. The only common user facilities are the Balikpapan Coal Terminal and Indonesia Bulk Terminal (IBT) located at Pulau Laut.
Other shore based loading facilities are used by a single supplier only, and include: Indominco, Kaltim Prima coal, P.T. Arutmin Indonesia.
Only the Tanjung Bara terminal can load Capes to their full capacity, all the other shore terminals are more or less affected by draft restriction preventing the maximisation of vessel cargo capacity, thus resulting in dead freight charges. As a result of additional barge haulage costs to the export terminal, very expensive port handling charges, and high ocean going vessel port expenses, most medium/small size producers are forced to ship in smaller geared vessels.
Tonnage shipped in geared vessels in the year 2004 has been estimated in excess of 20 million metric tonnes.
Back in 1991, the French company Louis Dreyfus Armateurs (LDA) had introduced the concept of working with floating cranes in Indonesia at Taboneo anchorage. Modern floating cranes are capable of handling up to 30,000 tonnes of coal a day with two floating cranes working together, but are subject to barge availability.
Feeling the need for buffer storage available at the loading anchorage, sets of tugs and barges are very often used as floating storage and are kept ‘preloaded’ to reduce detention of the ocean going vessels. Consequently, the barge transport capacity utilisation factor is quite poor.
Coal loading operations are being done for major exporters in Indonesia using floating cranes. For this, 300 ft barges are deployed for the transportation of coal from the barge-loading terminal to the anchorage, where the loading operations are being carried out.
Assuming 3 million tonnes of coal per year is loaded at a daily average of 18,000 tonnes means an aggregate laytime for the floating cranes of about 170 days of coal loading operation. It is observed over a period of one year that on average about 22-27% of the time is being wasted for events like waiting for barges, using bulldozers for gathering coal in the barge and waiting for favourable weather condition. This means that to perform 3 million tonnes an aggregate of 215 days are required out of which about 45 days are the idle time lost.