As in any endeavour that involves real estate the three main rules are:
“Rule #1 : Location, Rule #2 : Location and Rule #3 : Location.”
Although these rules of thumb come in handy when selecting a port for loading or discharging cargo there are a number of contributing factors that must be kept in mind. It goes without saying that the idea is always to please the customer, which usually means landing or picking up cargo at the closest place possible to the final destination or point of origin, whatever the case.
1 : The Quay
Firstly and foremostly, there usually has to be some kind of pier available to accept the vessel. In rare cases cargo can be handled at anchor and transferred by means of barge or other lighters but these are truly specialised cases. For the purposes of our discussion herein we will ignore lightering and beaching options.
Having a pier in proximity to the cargo requirements while desirable is not the sole factor in deciding suitability. Although movements would have to be considered according to their special situation, some of the common key considerations are:
- Can the length of the pier securely accommodate the vessel? If the fit is tight, are tugs available?
- Is there sufficient water depth? Are there tidal movements affecting depth at different stages?
- Has the quay the capacity to support the cargo and/or the machinery that will be moving over it? Are there acceptable measures that can be easily taken to spread weight concentrations if required?
- Is the pier available at the time of year that the cargo will be moving? Are there lock restrictions, ice and weather restrictions to be taken into consideration?
- In some cases, the quay design itself might not allow for the safe and efficient handling of the cargo? How much storage capacity is available? Distance from vessel to laydown area? Are there obstructions (i.e. narrow spots, overhead projections, acute turns, etc.…) that have to be allowed for?
- And last but certainly not least, environmentally can the cargo be passed through the port? Items such as proximity to a residential area, drainage back to the water or adjacent land are among elements that could play a part in the selection process.
2 : The Connections
The pier selection must also consider the need to move the cargo in and out of the port since very little cargo is intended directly for the port except in the case of industries that run their own service ports which are for the most part not available for public usage. As we see more and more, large heavy prefabricated units are being moved via marine transfer to sites often located inland. Wind energy projects are a prime example of this where pre-constructed components fabricated in different parts of the world are moved by vessel for inland destinations. The mining and construction sectors also have a requirement to move vehicles and other prefabricated large and heavy units that must have inland access.
The questions that must be addressed in this regard;
- Are there suitable connections to major thoroughfares and highways?
- Are there rail facilities at the port? If not, how far away? Are they accessible to the port given the nature of the cargo to be moved? What lines and connections are serviced? Can the cargo safely reach the rail position and once on the rail cars, can it safely move to its destination?
- What is the proximity to the nearest residences? Will increased traffic disrupt and possibly limit cargo movements?
- Is noise level from increased traffic going to be problematic?
3 : The Labor
Although the main ports of call are usually unionized and as such local labor is not a problem, the less utilised ports may require access to labor. Presently, in the industry there is a lack of specialised labor and so it is necessary to ensure that properly trained labor is available to attend to vessel operations. Some points to be considered:
- Is there any local labor union accredited to work? Do they have enough labor to sufficiently supply for requirements? Have they been properly trained for the project to be undertaken?
- Can enough specialised labor from outside local union be sourced to perform any functions that they are not able to fulfill? Is this labor local or must it be imported from another area? If so, are there establishments available locally to handle accommodating the external labor (hotels, restaurants, etc.…)?
- Are vessel crews able and allowed to fulfill some of the functions in regards to the handling of cargo? Operate cranes? Secure/unlash cargo?
- Are proper facilities in place for the men at the work location? If not, can they be sourced locally or what type of arrangements can be made?
4 : The Equipment
In operational planning one of the elements to be determined is the machinery and gear requirements. As these items are not usually supplied by the ports, it will be essential to ensure that the proper equipment is available and on hand. The equipment will vary but will consist of forklifts, loaders, excavators, cranes, grabs and conveyors to name at least a few. Fortunately, these items are usually quite mobile and accessible, however, as in all endeavours, costing is often the key factor in obtaining a project. Thus, when looking at a project towards selecting a port:
- What kind of equipment will be necessary? As mentioned in Point 1, can the dock handle this equipment? Are there local suppliers? What are the mobilization and de-mobilization costs? How can maintenance and breakdowns be handled? Are local repair shops, welders and spares available?
- Will the vessel or the client be supplying gear? Can proper certificates be produced? Gear requirements supplied by operator will require proper space to store and prepare; is it available? Are there any repair/replacement facilities in the vicinity?
As can be expected, all projects must be viewed on a case by case basis but as the above points highlight, the main items that must be addressed both internally and openly with the customer to work towards successful completion of a project to everyone’s expectations and satisfaction.