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The port of Rotterdam has successfully trialled its Pronto digital operations platform at ECT Delta Terminal – and it will reduce expensive quayside and ship downtime.

The results of the pilot has encouraged the port to eye rolling out the platform across its box terminal complex, as well as promoting it to other North European container ports.

However, despite any synergistic advantages of a standard operational communications system, progress there is likely to be hobbled by tradition and fierce rivalry between hubs.

The Pronto system, which shares real-time operational data among stakeholders, was used for six-weeks at ECT and has won the enthusiastic support of customer MSC.

“This is the future,” said Bob den Ouden, special products manager at MSC.

He has called for permanent adoption of the system at the Dutch port and for it to be rolled out to other hub ports in the Le Havre-Hamburg range.

He explained: “When berthing vessels, port authorities ask the agent how the vessel will arrive at the quay. However, the terminal is the lead in determining this. In a subsequent step, it would be able to share this information directly with the port authority via Pronto, which can use this to instruct the [vessel’s] pilot.”

Pronto, dubbed the “single point of truth” for port-related data, avoids the miscommunication that often accompanies the myriad phone calls and emails that can cause delays to ship operations and additional costs for terminal operators and carriers, he said.

“Say a vessel arrives at the quay incorrectly, if another vessel needs to come alongside a few hours later, we would then have to ask the harbour master to move the vessels a few metres. This costs time and money,” said Mr den Ouden.

He said that with 80% of MSC’s vessels exchanging containers at Delta, the quicker a ship departed the better. He said during the trial, berth visit efficiency had increased from 91% to 95%, significant in port operations terms.

“We can predict more precisely and reliably how long it takes from the moment the vessel berths at the terminal to the moment of departure,” said Mr den Ouden.

One industry veteran told The Loadstar today ship operations needed to “come out of the dark ages”, adding that there was “so much waste due to the traditional manner of port operations communications that have not adapted at the same pace as the liner industry, let alone coping with the increased volatility caused by the sheer size of these ULCVs and the massive number of boxes that are exchanged at a call”.

He added: “Many of us still work from the port agent’s ‘little black book’ of contacts that include the tug company, pilots and the duty manager at the next port. It’s a 24/7 business, but people have to sleep, so you are often relying on folk retrieving emails or voicemails for ETD and ETA information.”

And Mr den Ouden claimed the greatest benefits of the digital operations platform would be in the port-to-port area. Last year, The Loadstar reported from the TOC Container Supply Chain event that Rotterdam and Hamburg had started sharing port call data to optimise their respective port efficiency.

Joyce Bliek, director of digital business solution at Rotterdam, told TOC delegates that despite being rivals, the two ports were at the “stage of connecting systems”, adding that the “mindset” of competing ports needed to change.

But by far the biggest benefits of shared data would come to the ports with the shortest voyage time between their respective pilot stations, however so far the “mindset” of those ports appears entrenched.

“If a vessel leaves Felixstowe three hours later than envisaged and we only hear of this four hours later, we can no longer take the necessary measures to compensate,” said Mr den Ouden.

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