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«The offshore system solves the mega cargo problem»

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One thing is becoming clear in Europe and the rest of the world – that mega ships carry mega cargos and that the management of mega cargos is causing trouble to ports worldwide, or at least to American and European ports. The problem resulting from the impact of mega cargos carried by mega container vessels on ports and their current capacity limits is becoming clear.

The problem had already been predicted by more careful observers, including Mr. Hacegaba who – based on the experience of the Los Angeles port – was recently warning that the economic-organizational consequences of implementing mega vessels were yet to be found, but that they were already causing congestions at port facilities mostly designed for lower levels of activity. Or even in places, like Rotterdam, where the management of large container vessels had been thought out early with the construction of the large container terminal of Maasvlatke. Recent news reports that in order to avoid congestion when approaching the port the outgoing cargo will arrive by truck or railway at Alblasserdam only – 61 km from Maasvlatke – where containers will be moved to barges which will carry them – as if on a conveyor belt – to mega ships (exactly the same as the offshore-onshore system designed for Venice!).

All the aspects of the economy of mega container vessels are becoming clear today, including benefits and costs. Benefits – the most bragged about – come from the mega consolidation of cargos along the maritime region of the logistic chain which carries the goods from the place of production to the place of consumption: basically the advantages come from the lower unit cost of fuel per container/sea mile. Advantages for the shipping companies are greater the longer the maritime region of the logistic chain. But all the benefits from the mega consolidation of cargos become costs from the mega deconsolidation of the same cargo, both on departure and on arrival. The goods held in 18,000 TEUs carried by one ship come from hundreds, or even thousands, of origins and are going to hundreds, or even thousands, of destinations. Just think of the gigantic process of subsequent consolidations up to the mega cargo of the mega vessel and the equally complex process of subsequent de-consolidations from the mega vessels to the final destinations. It is necessary to prevent onshore consolidation/deconsolidation diseconomies from more than offsetting the consolidation economies of offshore cargo.

The fact that onshore consolidation/deconsolidation diseconomies do not have any impact on the manager of the offshore system causes a problem of benefits/costs distribution that the market is not necessarily able to solve.

Cargo deconsolidation and consolidation models can range from the hypothesis of an early offshore deconsolidation (transhipment) followed by traditional de-consolidations at destination ports of feeder vessels – but by definition this reduces the length of the maritime region and erases many of the mega ship advantages – to the hypothesis of an onshore deconsolidation – to fewer ports equipped to receive the entire mega cargo, as initially thought – or in multiple neighbouring ports (large ports) each equipped to receive a share of the mega cargo from one or more mega ships serving the same basin or – and this may prove to be a brilliant idea that will seem obvious in retrospect – at port systems (long ports) where the ocean ship is served offshore and the cargo is transferred via sea or along ship canals to ports that distribute the impact of mega cargos on the existing infrastructures. By making a cost-benefit analysis which keeps into consideration – in terms of fixed share capital – the best use of the existing infrastructural assets in ports, their inner ports and the connections with the land networks (which are doomed to total obsolescence in the case of concentration of mega cargos in mega ports) and – in terms of operating costs – direct and indirect advantages (congestion and pollution) deriving from the distribution of mega cargos on multiple ports and land networks, the opportunity represented by offshore-onshore systems surrounding offshore platforms appears to be increasingly needed.

What has been designed for the long port of Venice with its offshore platform and what is even being implemented in Rotterdam is under research in the United States and other parts of the world.

Paolo Costa, President Venice Port Authority

Website: The Medi Telegraph (italian version)

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