Koninklijke Vereniging - Société Royale



AIS-based tracking tools transform maritime logistics

It has been a decade since the advent of web-based vessel-tracking tools that leverage real-time and historical AIS data to enhance vessel, port, and terminal efficiency, while reducing costs and increasing safety and security.*

These tools have enabled stakeholders to improve vessel and associated dock and terminal activities during a period of unprecedented growth in crude oil transportation traffic. At the same time, the tools have brought sweeping change in such areas as demurrage reporting, while enabling new capabilities, such as virtual tendering, just-in-time arrivals, and key performance indicator (KPI) benchmarking and trending.

Among the areas most impacted by vessel traffic growth in the last 10 years were Gulf of Mexico ports whose higher volumes were initially driven by finds in the Bakken shale fields, and in West Texas, Mexico, and other locations.

Banned from being exported, this crude was first used as cheap feedstock and refineries ran to capacity while transporting growing volumes of refined products by water between ports and for export. As the balance between imports and exports shifted, midstream providers built new terminals supported by a train-and-barge infrastructure primarily between the Bakken fields and Gulf Coast refiners.

The gradual lifting of the crude oil export ban, beginning in 2015, cleared the way to ship up to a million barrels daily of ultra-light US crude to the rest of the world.

Web-based vessel-tracking tools helped manage this first wave of vessel traffic growth, and the industry is now heading into a new period of even faster growth with new traffic dynamics. Midstream operators have added more terminals to accommodate VLCCs that are moving exports from US ports. This is accelerating traffic growth while introducing the more complex dynamics of partial VLCC loading at the berth, as a second, smaller tanker is loaded nearby, followed by a ship-to-ship transfer in the deeper Gulf waters.

Gulf ports have also been impacted by the Panama Canal widening, which has not only increased traffic but also changed its flow. Gulf ports now also support LNG trades to Asia and deregulated Mexican exports, as well as bigger containerships from the Far East whose movements often require restrictions on other traffic.

Even as AIS-based vessel-tracking tools were helping to accommodate vessel traffic growth, they were also changing how that traffic is managed, with greater transparency and collaboration.

For instance, cargo and terminal owners in the early 2000s often came to different conclusions regarding the root causes of demurrage-inducing delays and who was responsible for penalties. Now, the top oil and gas companies use these tools thus enabling all stakeholders to discuss these issues with vessel operators, using the same information about real-time and historical vessel movements, which ultimately leads to much better collaboration on root-cause identification and correction.

Today’s tracking tools have also enabled capabilities, such as just-in-time scheduling based on vessel locations and dock availabilities. As the foundation for today’s integrated, web-based terminal management and analytics platforms, these tools give terminal operators a complete overview of all activities.

This contrasts with 10 years ago, when, for instance, tug operators could adjust arrival times at terminals, as there was no way to independently confirm them. Now, dispatch and operations centres benefit from real-time vessel data for all AIS-enabled vessels along the waterway and vessel locations and movements are incorporated into current logistics practices with custom filters, views, and identified fleets to help increase productivity. This also enables terminal and vessel operators to collaborate to improve KPIs in such areas as the average delay time at the berths.

Today’s collaborative tools also support initiatives, such as OCIMF’s ‘virtual tendering’ for reducing carbon emissions. Rather than allowing vessels to run at full sea speed toward the load/discharge port within the laycan period and then sit there for several days, terminals identify a vessel’s available berthing time well before arrival. The vessel then slows to accommodate the jetty availability, but is allowed to log arrival time as though she had proceeded at charter speed.

AIS-based tools make this possible by accurately predicting arrival times, considering weather conditions and other external factors, plus helping to manage subsequent vessel scheduling in a manner that is flexible enough to support berthing upon arrival.

Rising vessel volumes and changing traffic patterns over the past decade have created a growing need for improved visibility and transparency, stronger safety and security, and better ways for terminal and vessel operators to work together.

Collaborative AIS-based vessel-tracking tools and services have met these challenges while creating new opportunities to improve efficiencies and to operate against KPIs in ways that benefit all stakeholders.

*This article was written by Robert Kessler, program manager, Maritime Global Data Solutions, Oceaneering International.



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