The Antwerp port community has drawn up an action plan to make container barge handling in the port more efficient. Container handling has come under heavy pressure in some shipping terminals over the past few months. The rapidly growing volumes and the ever larger sizes of seagoing ships calling at the port in combination with labour shortages have led to peak loads on the terminals, with long waiting times for container barges as a result.
Since barge traffic is important for the port community as a whole, for sustainable transport of freight to and from the hinterland, serious efforts have been put into drawing up an action plan in the past few months aimed at making structural improvements in the short term. At the beginning of this week the action plan received the backing of the shipping terminals involved, together with the barge operators, shipping lines, shippers, forwarders, the Flemish government, Vlaamse Waterweg (waterway operator), Alfaport-Voka (Chamber of Commerce) and Antwerp Port Authority.
5 action points
Specifically, efforts will focus on the following action points:
- Full digitisation: at present, not all the available information is passed on to all players in the supply chain. To remedy this situation a port-wide data exchange platform is being developed that will give all parties direct access to the real-time information they need. NxtPort will take the lead in this.
- Closer collaboration for planning: there is already a planning tool available for efficient organisation of loading and unloading containers in the port, namely the Barge Traffic System or BTS. With this application, barge operators can give advance notice of their arrival at a terminal, request a time slot or pass on other information to the terminal operator. A planned update to the system will encourage barge operators to make even greater use of it. In combination with BTS, the port community is working on central barge planning, with a central unit drawing up schedules for all container terminals in the port.
- Bundling of volumes: at the moment, container barge volumes are too often presented on the shipping terminals in small volumes, which leads to sub-optimum use being made of the terminal resources. It’s the difference between ten suppliers each delivering one package, or one supplier delivering ten packages. The port community would much prefer the second scenario. To achieve this, measures will be taken to combine the volumes, both within the port and outside it. In this way barges will in future present larger volumes at the shipping terminals.
- Ensuring a sufficient number of dock workers: CEPA (the employers’ association responsible for hiring dockers) already started recruiting additional dock workers and drivers this summer. Also there will be additional training courses so that the dockers will be available sooner for handling barge containers.
- Finally, there will be additional dedicated berths for barges.
Great efforts will be put into further project initiation for each action point during the coming weeks. A summit meeting of the CEOs involved will be held at the end of January under the aegis of the Port Authority.
Background to the action plan
On 6 July this year the Port Authority organised a Container Barge Round Table meeting with all partners in the supply chain to discuss the problem of delays in container barge handling. A declaration of intent was signed by DPW, MPET, PSA, ICBO, ASV, Alfaport-Voka, MOW, Vlaamse Waterweg, VEA, OTM and the Port Authority, aimed at making structural improvements to container barge handling. Dedicated workshops were then held in September in order to outline the challenges involved in the process of making structural and incremental improvements in handling. Then in October particular topics and action plans were discussed in greater detail with the parties involved. Finally, on 6 November the action plan was approved by the CEOs concerned and the necessary commitments were made.