The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s International Transport Forum recently released ‘The Impact of Mega Ships’, a new report investigating the impact of larger container ships on infrastructure, equipment and port traffic.
The report, which looks at the pros and cons of the current ‘mega’ container ships, put forward that 24,000 TEU vessels, which could be in service as soon as 2020, will have a major impact on main trade lines, potentially raising transport costs and hindering the competitiveness of ports overall.
We submitted information to the report with regards to the impact that ever increasing vessel sizes are having on port infrastructure, and in particular fenders and docking and mooring equipment such as bollards and hooks.
It’s a timely report. Our latest Barometer Report survey, the fifth that we have conducted, has found that ports are still struggling to keep up with the demands of increasing vessel sizes, especially in terms of onwards logistics.
This is another problem highlighted by the OECD report: although increasing vessel sizes have delivered cost savings in the past, these are decreasing with size, and size-related ‘fixes’ to port and hinterland infrastructure could be substantial.
A more complex challenge
Whilst mega ships bring these increased demands with them, one of the biggest challenges we see is actually designing berths to accommodate the large vessels of the future, whilst ensuring that they are still able to accommodate smaller vessels in the short term.
For our part, this requires fender design that can accommodate a wide range of operating parameters. Designing a fender system that will perform successfully with kinds of vessel means the rubber compound must be fine-tuned to absorb the required energy, no matter the size of the ship. The properties of the rubber element must be hard enough to withstand the high loads from larger vessels, yet soft enough to accept the loads from smaller vessels.
Bigger ships doesn’t necessarily equal bigger fenders
The new generation of large container vessels uses several fenders at once, which limits the need for increased fender sizes; the extra amount of energy that needs to be absorbed is simply absorbed via more fenders. However, designing for multiple fender contact is still not straightforward for new mega vessels. The considerable bow flare of these ships, designed to accommodate as many containers as possible, mean that even a small berthing angle can lead to contact between the ship and the quay wall equipment.
Taking the pressure off
The rubber component of the fender system can be developed in other ways too, and can even reduce the impact on other port equipment in accommodating mega ships. For example, by designing fender systems with a smaller profile – but more efficient performance characteristics – ports can avoid the often costly process of extending or replacing cranes.
As we see it, ever growing vessel sizes certainly bring with them a whole host of new considerations for ports, not least upgrading infrastructure to allow them to berth. With onwards logistics considerations bringing about their own problems, there needs to be more collaboration and communication across the whole supply chain.
Working with and across suppliers, through an iterative process, from design, is critical to ensuring the port itself benefits from the increased throughput of increased vessel sizes, rather than being hamstrung by it.