effective agreements for smooth shipping operations

The Scheldt estuary is a very busy waterway. In order to ensure that all vessels reach their destination safely, smoothly and on time, the Joint Nautical Authority (JNA) has implemented a plan for integrated traffic management. A reliable and transparent scheduling system is crucial for this. 
‘Integrated traffic management’ (ITM) means we coordinate the management of shipping traffic throughout the entire JNM area in collaboration with all the partners in the nautical chain. ITM is one of the core tasks of the JNA. 

Why is integrated traffic management necessary? 

Navigating the Scheldt estuary has been a challenge for as long as people can remember, especially with all the traffic on the river. In the past, this used to lead to long queues, long delays, and a lot of frustration. The authorities in Flanders and the Netherlands have therefore been working together for a long time to make shipping in the area safer and smoother. 
They do this amongst other things by facilitating optimal collaboration between all the partners in the nautical chain. The ports, the pilots, the dockmasters… and last but not least, the ships themselves: everyone benefits from a reliable and transparent scheduling system, with the least amount of delays. That is why we need integrated traffic management. 

What are the advantages of integrated traffic management? 

Thanks to integrated traffic management, we are now able to handle more vessels. 
A good example of this is the new mega container ships. Because of their deep draught, they can only navigate the channel during a very narrow tidal window when the water level is high enough. Furthermore, they are too big to be able to turn round once they have sailed up the river past Vlissingen. This means they have to be certain that there will be towage services available and that they will have a guaranteed berth on the dock. The scheduling of the other shipping has to be adjusted to make this possible. 
This helps to avoid delays, frustration, and unnecessary fuel consumption for all the chain partners. 
The planning schedules are always drawn up on the basis of the ‘front door-back door principle’: vessels only depart when they can sail through to their destination without any delays. This has made waiting until a pilot is available, or until a vessel can go through a lock gate, a thing of the past. 
We are also able to plan further ahead now. 
The chain partners notify us of all their expected traffic and capacity in advance. This means we are now able to identify any potential bottlenecks and peak periods earlier and can therefore adjust the planning schedule accordingly. 
Who is involved in integrated traffic management? 
We facilitate integrated traffic management by working together with all the nautical chain partners: 
the Joint Nautical Authority
the Port of Antwerp and the North Sea Port 
the towage services 
the lock operators 
the dockmasters 
the responsible policy departments of the Flemish and Dutch governments 
the Vessel Traffic Services (VTS)
the Flemish and Dutch pilotage services 
Concrete work agreements have to be made in order to align the operations and planning schedules of the chain partners with each other. These agreements are made for each nautical chain. There are two nautical chains in the JNM area: one for the shipping traffic going to and from the Port of Antwerp, and one for traffic going to and from the North Sea Port. 

How does the scheduling system work? 

All the partners in the chain work with their own computer systems and platforms. They exchange information via a central IT platform called the Central Broker System (CBS). All the partners can use this platform to access the scheduling system. 
The success of integrated traffic management depends on the reliability and transparency of the scheduling system. The planning schedule is worked out in three phases, with the information becoming more precise in each phase. 
Strategic phase: > 72 hours 
The chain partners share information with each other in order to coordinate their long-term capacity plans. This means any expected peak situations, bad weather, infrastructure works, or bottlenecks in the services can be taken into account when the planning schedule is being worked out. 
Planning phase: 72 > 8 hours (Port of Antwerp) / 72 > 6 hours (North Sea Port) 
The shipping companies submit the details of when their vessels have to reach the ports and when they have to leave. They then order the necessary nautical services, such as towage services and pilots. 
The ports use this information to work out a provisional port planning schedule. They do this taking into account the priority of the ships, the limitations in the infrastructure, the nautical conditions, and so on. 
The chain partners can then evaluate the provisional planning schedule to see if it is compatible with their available capacity and operating conditions. The JNA will check the schedule for two aspects in particular: 
o Is the planning schedule compatible with the admissions policy for the area? 
o Are there any conflicts between the planning schedules of the two ports? If there are any conflicts, then the ports will first try to find a solution through mutual consultation. If they are unable to find a solution, then the JNA will intervene. We adopt a port-neutral approach in such situations. 
At the end of the planning phase, a workable planning schedule will be drawn up: the chain planning schedule. It is finalised 8 hours in advance for the Port of Antwerp, and six hours in advance for the North Sea Port. 
Implementation phase: < 8 / 6 hours 
The operational implementation takes place in accordance with the finalised chain planning schedule. Changes can still be made, but only if they do not cause any delays to other vessels. 

Why is the planning schedule finalised 8 hours in advance for one port and 6 hours in advance for the other? 

In the past, each chain partner had its own planning horizon. 
For example, the pilotage services need around 6 hours in order to transport their pilots from their base to a vessel. The towage services are able to work with shorter lead times. Shipping agents are used to reacting even faster. 
Thanks to the collaboration that takes place within integrated traffic management, all the chain partners now have a better understanding of each other's operational practices. All the different partners now work with the same planning horizon so that ship movements can be planned in from their arrival in the JNM area all the way through to their destination. 
The planning horizon for the North Sea Port is currently 6 hours. The Port of Antwerp has a longer planning horizon of 8 hours because the ships have to go further to get from the sea to the port. 
Continuous improvement 

Learning from mistakes 

An inland waterway ship that is moored in the berth of a sea-going vessel. A nautical service provider who arrives too early or too late. Information that is not shared with the other partners on time. These are all examples of practical problems that we encounter during the implementation of the planning schedule. 
In order to learn from these types of ‘system errors’, the Antwerp Chain Incidents Committee (CKA) was set up in 2015. The CKA analyses situations where the chain did not work optimally, and then makes recommendations for improvement based on its findings. If necessary, modifications are made to the work agreements between the partners. A similar committee has also been set up for the nautical chain of the North Sea Port. 
All the chain partners are represented in the committee, which has a neutral chair and secretary from the Joint Nautical Management. The chain partners can discuss practical problems with each other in a confidential setting, and make proposals for the improvement of the chain. The reports of the meetings are then shared with the representatives of all the different partners. 
The result? 
o a more transparent scheduling system 
o better enforcement of the work agreements 
o more insight into the operational processes of the other nautical partners
JNA follows all the latest developments 
The JNA follows all the latest developments that could have an impact on shipping in the area, such as: 
o the increase in the size of sea-going vessels 
o modifications to infrastructure (e.g. extra container capacity at Antwerp (ECA)) 
o the Scheldt-Seine link 
o developments in passenger transport over water 
o … 
In some cases, these developments might make it necessary for the work agreements to be revised together with the chain partners. The work agreements are also evaluated on a regular basis.

Vision for the future 

The integrated traffic management of maritime shipping is already in an advanced stage of development. We now want to extend the integrated traffic management system to all waterway users, including inland shipping. A trial project is currently ongoing in this area. 
We are also looking further ahead into the future. Together with the chain partners, the JNA has organised a consultation procedure that by the end of 2020 should result in a vision for the future of integrated traffic management in the Port of Antwerp and the North Sea Port. What have we achieved up until now? What areas need to be improved? And how should integrated traffic management continue to evolve in the future?