The case for offshore container ports

Container ports have evolved significantly since their inception in the 1950s. These ports, where ships dock in sheltered coastal waters and cargo is unloaded onto skids using jib cranes, have undergone changes in size, technology and optimization. However, despite these adjustments, the traditional design does not offer effective solutions to critical aspects such as high performance, expansion, environmental sustainability, resilience to climate change, port congestion, shallow depths and accommodating larger vessels.

In stark contrast, shipping companies have successfully met their efficiency and decarbonization challenges by deploying Megamax vessels with capacities in excess of 20,000 TEU. Unfortunately, ports have not kept pace with this change, resulting in only a limited number of ports remaining capable of accommodating these huge ships. Obstacles such as lower bridge heights in the US and latitude limitations of the Panama Canal make it even more difficult for Megamax ships to access East Coast ports.

The exorbitant costs associated with dredging, protection infrastructure and equipment impose a significant financial burden and require significant volumes of freight to recoup investments, while at the same time exposing those involved to significant risks. Paradoxically, it is the shipping companies that decide whether the ports survive. This situation should ideally be remedied by each country striving to have sustainable capacity to receive ships independent of shipping companies.

The current global landscape is one of incredible challenges and remarkable advances. The term “incredible” is emphasized to highlight the exceptional nature of the disruptive and sudden changes we are currently witnessing. As a result, the need for rapid adjustment is more urgent than ever. But despite strict environmental regulations and limited space, the port industry continues to cling to an outdated approach to adaptation. It is obvious that continuing down this path is a dead end and requires a paradigm shift.

In contrast, the oil and wind energy sectors offer inspiring examples of industries that have ventured beyond the boundaries of the earth and expanded into the ocean. Paradoxically, the port industry remains tied to land, investing significant effort in bringing ships to shore rather than reaching them by sea. It is imperative that ports follow the bold example of the oil and wind energy industries and fully commit to offshore container port solutions.

Offshore ports offer a number of advantages. As these ports are not constrained by depth restrictions, they can be standardized and modular in design, allowing efficient handling of vessels from multiple directions with a higher density of robust cranes. This makes maneuvers faster and safer while improving ship stability in intermediate water areas. Offshore ports significantly reduce the risk of collisions and grounding by expanding the capacity of existing ports and creating additional space for smaller vessels used as cabotage and feeder vessels.

The standardized nature of offshore port concepts speeds up processes such as environmental permits, financial feasibility assessments and technical assessments. This standardized approach leads to higher cost-efficiency and adaptability to specific conditions. In addition, the compact and pre-engineered nature of offshore concepts results in lower capital expenditures. By employing a higher density of cranes and easier maneuverability, offshore ports ensure improved performance, resulting in higher returns on investment and reduced risk, while minimizing their impact on the environment. These systems encourage the creation of new sea routes and logistics hubs, including the possibility of a circular route spanning the Pacific Basin or the establishment of major hubs within the United States.

Related Articles

Back to top button