Antwerp port community – action plan for containerised inland shipping

The press release of the Port Authority starts promising. “All stakeholders involved in the port of Antwerp signed today… “. The key lies especially in the “All” and it goes further. “With the support of the maritime terminals involved, the barge operators, shipping companies, shippers, forwarders, NxtPort, CEPA, the Flemish government, the Flemish Waterway, Alfaport-Voka and the Antwerp Port Authority”. Concrete implementation then revolves around three main pillars: planning and cooperation, bundling and digitisation. Superb. I refer proudly to my earlier Blogs where I indicate that ALL stakeholders should take a step in the direction of solutions. And what is the result of one year and 40 workshops (from Spring 2017 to Spring 2018)? 3 obvious solution areas. And let us not moan that it has taken so long and, above all, let us not pretend that it will not change anything. I already believe in it! (But I also have the reputation of being a bit naive 😊)

Congratulations to all stakeholders who have achieved this. To deliver now and put the good intentions into practice. Because these are the right actions.

Planning & Cooperation.

The terminals undertake to apply a more integrated planning approach. The reintroduction of BTS and the commitment to offering a minimum inland shipping dedicated treatment capacity are good decisions (Antwerp Gateway – congratulations). Additional measures such as centralised lighter planning combined with cooperation between the barge operators (activate Fahrgemeinschaft???) will certainly help to reduce congestion but also to make better use of the handling capacity at the terminals.

Bundling Volumes

This is “double employ” with cooperation between the barge operators – so good. The “minimum call size” concept is a big hit. That’s what I’ve been calling for since 2014 in my study Inland navigation of all bridges, locks and cranes. So that is all well and good. It is also good that the Port Company and the Flemish government are providing supporting financial measures. Let these measures be structural and not of the kind that, after 3 years after the end of these financial measures, all goes “BACK TO SQUIRE ONE”. I am curious, however, about the operational measures.

Digitisation

Of course, the process will benefit from the earliest possible exchange and sharing of information. It remains to be seen whether NxtPort can play a role in this. I had understood that NxtPort itself was not going to implement and develop any ICT solutions. While NxtPort may aspire to play a coordinating role, let us not try to reinvent the wheel and see what ICT solutions are already on the shelf that can be rolled out instantly – without a few minor cultural changes.

Finally, there are the ‘short- and medium-term framework conditions’. Will we only be able to compensate NOW for the structural shortages of Port workers? Last week, a campaign to make working in the port more attractive – too little – too late. CEPA really needed one year and 40 workshops to take action and overcome this acute shortage. The sun is already shining, it will soon be summer holidays again and the trade unions don’t give a F*CK that there is insufficient working capacity.

An 8 out of 10 so for this. But as Frere Jacques says, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. But I insist on one condition: that in the stakeholders’ organisations, “Dedicated Implementation Teams” will be set up that will only work on this assignment in the coming 12 months and will be exempt from any other tasks. In some organizations this may be a “Coordinator” who reports directly to the Management, in others it may be a Team who has a proxy to make the necessary decisions and enforce its implementation.

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