The Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), a non-profit group established by container shipping majors, has published a new Just-in-Time Port Call Program to facilitate vessel speed optimization and reduce CO2 emissions. The initiative offers a new set of standardized data definitions to optimize port calls. The push for digital interconnection is a remarkable example of industry collaboration between DCSA members, namely: CMA CGM, Evergreen, Hapag-Lloyd, HMM, Maersk, MSC, One, Yang Ming and Zim.

The Just-in-Time Port Calls initiative offers a shared language for digital communication between container ship operators and shore-side staff. The full document, which is available for free on DCSA’s website, breaks down a port call into different stages, for example pilot boarding, berthing, cargo operations, and departure. The aim is to allow for better coordination and exchange of real-time data between vessel and port staff. The data terms invite vessels and port staff to communicate estimated times, request changes, confirm plans, and report the actual time that events occur.

The hope is that with a common language for communicating about port calls, the DCSA will reduce wasted time around port calls and thus reduce the energy foot-print of the container shipping industry. The ability to more accurately anticipate berthing time allows the vessel to conserve fuel by traveling at a slower rate and by minimizing unnecessary idle time spent waiting to berth or disembark.

The initiative is a welcome development in an industry that continues to adapt. Many ports continue to rely on manual processes, paperwork and person-to-person communications. This, combined with a lack of uniformity in the language used to describe stages of a port call, leads to confusion, delays, and excess emissions. Vessels often waste fuel by steaming faster than needed at higher rates of fuel consumption, only to join the queue at congested ports.

On top of these basic challenges, the pandemic has added to the chaos of port calls. Covid-restrictions, like quarantine periods, create delays for arriving vessels. This is particularly the case if the voyage is shorter than the usual two-week quarantine period. Covid protocols also complicate cargo operations, for example, rules that prevent vessel crew from interacting with shore-side personnel. Meanwhile, border closures and restrictions on road transport have led to more reliance on ports in the supply chain. Better coordination may reduce health risks that mariners and port operators face, and improve delivery times for needed consumer products.

The new Just-in-Time Port Calls initiative is timely in another sense, insofar as it offers a relatively simple and cost-effective method to assist with reducing emissions. IMO 2020 regulations on sulphur emissions have led many vessel owners to invest substantial sums on “scrubbers” to filter exhaust. Upcoming regulations on carbon emissions have led to profound developments in fuel technology and innovative vessel design. Shifting to digital communications for port calls represents a cost effective and efficient approach. The simple proposition is that through better planning and coordination, vessels can gain fuel efficiencies by optimizing their steaming speed, thereby lowering fuel consumption, reducing CO2 emissions and avoiding delays. It will also allow carriers, ports and terminals to communicate and exchange data in an uniform and efficient way, achieving optimization in operations.