Port closures due to weather often cause vessels to wait outside the port for better conditions. This has several consequences for logistics companies and their customers. Strong winds and heavy fog are the main cause of the frequent disruptions at the Port of Shanghai.
The Port of Shanghai, located in the East China Sea, is subject to considerably more humid weather conditions than other parts of China. Fog and strong winds tend to be at their worst from October to April. In addition, September and October is typhoon season in Shanghai.
In the event of very bad weather the Port of Shanghai can be forced to close, causing all operations to be suspended. In 2017, Shanghai port closures caused by weather amounted to a total of 1,192 hours, or almost 50 days, with more than 80 per cent of closures being caused by wind.
|Reason of port closure||2016 (hours closed)||(%)||2017 (hours closed)||(%)|
Why do wind and fog cause problems for shipping?
Captain Sumit Shah, Master of the MV Tulane, says meteorological forecasting these days is incredibly accurate within the 72 to 96-hour range, which usually provides ample time to make the necessary decisions to avoid severe weather at sea. However, even inside the port, bad weather can be challenging.
“With extreme wind, there is a risk of being blown off the berth or dock, or that lines could break and damage port equipment and the vessel,” says Captain Shah.
“When it comes to fog, the main challenge is to get the ship safely into port in foggy conditions as the bridge team may be forced to navigate the vessel with very limited visibility. Depending on the range of visibility, the vessel may have to turn around or anchor and wait it out. Prudent mariners and pilots will normally abort all maneuvers in these conditions and wait it out,” Captain Shah continues.
The consequences of disruption
Port closure often requires vessels to wait outside the port for better weather conditions. The biggest consequence of this for customers is the potential delay to their goods arriving in port, whether that’s Shanghai or elsewhere.
That’s because delays occurring in the Port of Shanghai will often extend to the next ports of call, giving the vessel operator a big challenge to meet customer commitments. In the event of severe delays, the vessel could be late for its next assignment, causing knock-on problems for other customers.
Vessels idling at sea consume extra fuel, a problem that is enhanced by having to sail faster when the port does re-open in order to catch up with the schedule. The use of such extra fuel drives up both the cost and the environmental impact of the voyage.
Prioritising prevention of customer impact
Rider Liu is Head of China for Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean (WW Ocean). He explains that the company works continuously to prevent the challenging weather conditions in the Port of Shanghai from having a negative impact on its customers.
“Maintaining our service commitment to our customers is our number one priority,” says Liu.
“Since we’re aware of the conditions in Shanghai Port, we always take this into account when planning transports for our customers. For example, we might add some buffer time to the schedule for vessels calling in Shanghai. When delays do occur, we may have to speed up the vessel or adjust the port rotation schedule both in Shanghai and other ports to make up time,” Liu continues.
Finding new solutions in the port
WW Ocean works closely with the terminal team in Shanghai to optimise yard space utilisation. If a vessel is running behind schedule, WW Ocean may ask customers to delay the dispatch of cargo to the terminal, in order to reduce storage costs.
The company also maintains a constant dialogue with the shipping agency and authorities to minimise delays and disruptions. This close dialogue with port authorities helps WW Ocean to stay in the loop in the event of of a prioritised berth window opening. In some cases, it may opt to switch port rotations to adapt its schedule to the upcoming availability in Shanghai.
Cooperating with Chinese authorities
Fog is often caused by smog, and one way to improve the climatic conditions in the Port of Shanghai would potentially be to enhance air quality and reduce pollution.
WW Ocean is working closely with the Chinese authorities to support their sustainability efforts, sharing its expertise related to green shipping and green terminal operations.
Further down the line, China may also consider introducing a more stringent Emissions Control Area (ECA), like those in place in Europe and North America.