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Port authorities need to “step up” and work together to improve data sharing for the benefit of the whole container supply chain, delegates at the TPM Asia conference in Shenzhen were told.

Following the launch of Rotterdam’s vessel call optimisation tool, Pronto, the port soon realised the technology’s impact would be limited if used in isolation.

“A year ago we thought we should use Pronto for our direct advantage and our competitors shouldn’t use it,” said Rotterdam’s director for containers Hans Nagtegaal.

“Well, that’s not correct, because it’s for the benefit of the whole system if we know further in advance if there’s something happening, say at Antwerp, with a vessel before it comes to Rotterdam, or vice versa.”

Mr Nagtegaal (pictured) told The Loadstar the port had made good progress with Pronto, including tests with Maersk, MSC and Shell. The tool enables Rotterdam, when ordering bunker vessels, to eliminate delays caused by human error that previously occurred when container line schedules changed at short notice.

Trials also reduced the time a vessel had to wait before sailing by 30 minutes.

“But we recognise gaining half an hour in Rotterdam is not totally changing the world of shipping,” said Mr Nagtegaal. “So some of the carriers are asking us to roll it out to other ports, and we think it should come from them. If we try to sell it as the best thing ever, it probably won’t fly, but if one of the big carriers adopts it as their standard, then there’s a chance.

“If it becomes a global tool, then why shouldn’t our competitors benefit too? Every port will benefit from the smoothest transit of vessels through its terminals.”

Rotterdam is not the only port developing digital tools, however, including PSA’s Ping tool for Singapore. And concerns over data sharing remain even within ports. Mr Nagtegaal said terminal operators were “protective” of their data, lest “everyone has the same information”.

And there is an additional issue, in terms of ownership.

“On the one hand, we want to optimise our supply chain, but on the other, we want to get some of our investment back. So we are charging customers to use Pronto, and if we charge customers with the data of terminals, then the terminals say ‘you have to pay me too’ – so those discussions are ongoing.”

After optimising the use of data to improve port operations, Rotterdam plans to go a step further down the supply chain to optimise inland logistics, including barge operations.

The port has already taken the step of combining event data from terminals, barges and inland terminals into one system so shippers can track containers through the port.

“The terminals and barges don’t have these initiatives, so as a port authority you have to step up,” Mr Nagtegaal said.

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