A balancing act

The megaships have started to arrive at global ports
The megaships have started to arrive at global ports
"You cannot work on megaship planning without the back-up area," Patrick King, CH2M Hill

The landside facilities are just as important as the wharves and quays in planning for megaships, finds Martin Rushmere

Megaship reality has arrived in the form of the CMA CGM Marco Polo and ports are spending more time on planning and recognising that value lies in balancing landside and quay facilities.

One point of debate dogging port authorities and governments in trying to cope with the new ships is whether to build on a new, preferably greenfield, site, expand existing facilities or go for the 'brownfield' solution of transforming an old site such as an oil terminal. Patrick King, global director for the Ports and Maritime Practice at CH2M HILL, has a short answer for that. “Hah,” he says, “you can’t just off the top of your head say which is better. It depends on the market, the water depth, landside facilities, power requirements... All that, plus the environmental side.”

He agrees that costs are enormous. “But the accuracy of cost estimation has improved. And you cannot work on megaship planning without the back-up area.”

Italy's Venice has gone for a port outside the main lagoon to get to depths of 20 metres, while Jebel Ali is deepening existing berths from 12 metres to 16 metres. New construction is taking place in front of the existing quay coupled with demolition behind it, plus the use of piling.  

In the US, he says, container planning has been ahead of breakbulk. “But it must be remembered that breakbulk has stagnated because so much is being switched to containers.”


Increased costs

What operators are finding is that landside (including rail, stacking and yard distribution equipment) is taking up between a quarter and a third of fixed asset costs, up from 15% about 10 years ago. Rail is becoming particularly important, so much so that at Long Beach it will account for $1.5bn of the $4.6bn in expansion over the next 10 years.

Not only is yard storage space growing exponentially, but the effort in getting the boxes onto the right place and vehicle is becoming more complicated.

Steve Ogden, operations director at Gulftainer, bears this out. “Lines are combining services to ensure that the 14,000/16,000 teu ships can be filled. The result is that in ports that are predominantly transhipment hubs, whereas previously a liner vessel would say be serving a total of, for example, 10 final destinations for the one shipping line, the joint co-operation of lines on the same service has resulted in those 10 destinations being served for four or five lines, effectively multiplying the Yard destinations for the inbound containers by four to five times.

"This means that landside operations have had to become even more precise and organised, to ensure that boxes are managed correctly for outbound loading operation."


Easy sell

Two factors work in Khor Fakkan’s favour. Being a transhipment port has meant that the challenge and expense of building heavy vehicle gates, turning areas and parking places is largely avoided. Also, its maximum tidal change is only a couple of metres, compared with as much as nine or 10 metres for some European and British ports.

Civil engineering techniques in building the newest phases at Khor Fakkan have involved the modern method of using concrete walls without reinforcement. “In essence, we have used gravity to give the strength to the walls," says Payam Foroudi, director, ports at Halcrow (now an international division of CH2M Hill), which has been the main civil engineering contractor for more than 30 years. “Pre-cast concrete blocks have been built in the wet, each weighing 50-60 tonnes and standing almost 20 metres high.” The result has been a more cost-effective and efficient operation.

A similar method is being used in New York.

At DP World’s London Gateway, the accent has been on marrying yard and rail efficiencies with automation to serve the new generation. Optical Character Recognition will be used at vehicle gates, with a pre-booking system for vehicles and each driver identified with a specific vehicle. Stacking will be fully automatic (Cargotec is the supplier), with two cranes per stack – one for the landside and one for the quayside. Stacks will be five high and 10 wide.

Manned cassette tugs will move between the stacks and the on-dock railhead, which has a trailing length of 750 metres.


Think big

The first phase, to open in the fourth quarter of 2013, will have a throughput of 1.6m teu (3.4m teu at full build-out). A total of 12 super post-panamax cranes will be in operation for a berth length of 1,250 metres. Channel depth alongside is 17 metres, while the inner channel is 14.5 metres and the outer channel 15.5-16 metres.

“What we are offering customers is the shortest distance to their markets, leading to significantly lower distribution costs," says commercial manager Charles Meaby. “Our aim is to be best in class - to make this the first port of choice for the big ships.”

Part of this ambition involves the best crane lifting rate in the UK. DP World is not divulging what its expectation is, but the official journal of the International Association of Ports and Harbours suggests that about 40 moves an hour is needed for a terminal to be competitive.

London Gateway is adding to its competitive qualifications by including a logistics park, which has planning permits to take up a maximum of 9m square feet. Analysts see this as a major factor in its rivalry with Felixstowe. Total land area of the whole project is 3.5 square miles.

The port is also pleased with its achievement in developing an accompanying wetlands site for wading birds and other wildlife as part of the transformation of the port from a disused oil refinery – probably the bête noire of the environmental movement today.


Power hungry

Halcrow's Mr Foroudi notes that megaship ports are huge power users, particularly cranes. According to the IAPH journal, the ultra-large container cranes feed on 2,500 kva, compared with 900kva for a panamax STS unit. “For some developing countries, this is higher than anything they already use. Pakistan has had to build a new power station for Hutchison’s new container facility."

Equally important, and costly, is the environmental aspect. “Every port must consider that," says Mr Foroudi. “Khalifa in Abu Dhabi is spending $250m on environmental protection, mostly to protect the reef.”

Ports contacted by Port Strategy say they have heard nothing in the market place about plans for building anything bigger than the Maersk 18,000 teu vessels. Yet it is clear they realise that the size progression will continue, with planned channel and berth draughts easily able to accommodate the Triple E class.

North America is however lagging and even Los Angeles and Long Beach are probably too small to cater for the next generation of containerships. As the size gap continues to grow, the stage is being set for the Caribbean ports to jump in and take advantage of tomorrow's transhipment opportunities.


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