Marine and Infrastructure

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A Balancing Act / Chapter 1: Finding the Right Balance

How ports around the world are managing the impact of bigger vessels and demanding environmental conditions on their operations.

“The key challenge for a lot of port operations is how to safely moor vessels that are bigger than the port was originally designed for. Bigger vessels means larger mooring loads acting on mooring lines and port-based assets such as fender systems, mooring equipment and the berth structure itself.”

Dr. Terry O’Brien, founder & executive director, OMC International

Today’s ports face a difficult balancing act. They need to offer a safe and reliable service to shipping lines while optimizing vessel throughput and providing efficient transfer and discharge operations. Maintaining this equilibrium ensures that revenues are secured and risk is minimized. Trelleborg’s conversations with industry experts reveal some of the biggest challenges to achieving this are around size. It’s about bigger vessels, bigger environmental challenges and an existing infrastructure that cannot – in the short and medium term – transform quickly enough to keep up with this pace of change.

Our discussion with those on the front line of port operations highlighted the very real impact this is having on day-to-day activities but also revealed the measures being taken to mitigate the effect.

Mooring lines

Accurately defining the limits of safe operation for various types of mooring systems to take into account increasing vessel size emerged as a key focus for maritime engineers. Detailed and complex mooring analysis for each port environment ensures that usage guidelines and operational maintenance recommendations are strictly adhered to and safety standards are fully complied with. The quality and integrity of the mooring line used by vessels when they arrive at a port is critical to its effective performance throughout berthing and to the safety of landside personnel and overall port operations. As ships become bigger, so too does the potential energy stored in tensioned mooring lines. If the integrity of a line is compromised (for example, frequent travel between extreme global climates from 45 degree heat to freezing temperatures can affect performance) then in the case of a break, the impact within the port is amplified, and the potential for fatalities increased due to snatched lines and peak loads.

The adaptation of automated mooring technologies overcomes many of the current issues relating to mooring lines, their selection and ongoing operational maintenance and management. Automated mooring technology allows precise and predictable mooring performance that better and more sustainably aligns with the mooring analysis performed for each berth and vessel combination. Trelleborg welcomes the need for consistency of regulations and adaptation of standards and guidelines to enable both traditional and automated mooring systems, and operational process uniformity, and is actively working with various industry bodies to contribute to this important discussion.

Environmental impact

Environmental factors such as long waves and the large tidal ranges in certain areas are also causing issues for port operations – the bigger moored vessels become, the greater the potential impact of draft and oscillation on line breakage and wharf damage. The whole handling of lines and keeping lines under tension throughout discharge and loading is increasingly problematic. Long waves cause ships to move considerably in surge and sway, in a horizontal motion. If these motions build up, then they can cause lines to overload and then break which in turn disrupts port operations.

"The impact of passing ships in the harbor environment has become much more significant in recent years, leading to major damage on mooring and port infrastructure."

Dr. Terry O’Brien, founder & executive director, OMC International

The other factor that is becoming an increasing issue for ports around the world, as international shipping traffic grows alongside vessel capacity, is the impact of passing ships. Congestion, particularly in narrow port channels is creating wake vibrations past other ships that are moored, causing them to break lines leading to major damage of wharf and unsolicited excursions of vessels. New technology needs to be able to address the driving forces on these mega-vessels if major incidents are to be prevented.