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THE LATEST VESSEL productivity numbers derived and analyzed from The Journal of Commerce Port Productivity Database should be welcome news for marine terminal operators and port authorities. Productivity at many terminals improved in the first six months of 2013 compared to the previous numbers covering all of 2012.

Productivity improvement was especially noticeable at the port level. Nine of the top 10 U.S. ports improved, and globally, nine of the top 10 ports also improved their vessel berth performance.

Among individual terminals in the U.S., six of the top 10 improved vessel productivity, two experienced a decline and two new terminals joined the top 10.

Seven of the top 10 container terminals globally recorded increased productivity, two experienced a decline and one new terminal entered the top 10.

The Journal of Commerce, after working with ocean carriers for five years, released its first ranking of the top ports and container terminals in July. A total of 17 ocean carriers, representing more than 70 percent of global vessel capacity as defined by research analyst Alphaliner, provided their 2012 vessel productivity data based on the industry’s standard measurement of gross moves per hour across the vessel.

The rankings for January-June 2013 are based on 12,500 vessel calls in the Americas and 63,500 ship calls at major ports around the world. The Journal of Commerce will update productivity numbers on a regular basis.

Industry experts aren’t surprised by the improvement. “The productivity numbers should go up,” said Mark Sisson, leader of the maritime analysis group at Oakland, Calif.-based engineering firm AECOM. Container ships are continually getting bigger, which allows for more efficient working of the vessels. Terminal operators also are using advanced technology and are refining their operating techniques, he said.

Overall, the key factor in improving berth productivity isn’t the top-end capacity of the cranes, but rather the fluidity of the container yard and the support that terminals provide the crane operators. “It’s all about the yard,” Sisson said.

Ed DeNike, chief operating officer of SSA Marine, cited the ability of the crane operator and the yard sup- port as the two key factors in berth productivity. He used the Port of Oakland as an example. SSA’s crane drivers during the night shift regularly handle 35 to 45 lifts per crane per hour because there are no trucks moving around in the yard.

During the dayshift, though, SSA’s crane operators average 28 to 30 moves per hour because the terminal is handling truck operations, as well. SSA will process 4,000 to 5,000 truck moves per day. Sometimes the yard gets so congested that a section must be closed off to truck traffic.

It’s therefore the responsibility of the terminal operator to provide as much yard support as necessary. “If we’re not getting containers to and from the crane quickly enough, we’re doing something wrong,” DeNike said.

Crane density is also important. To control costs, however, terminals will only work as many cranes as necessary to get the vessel in and out of berth in the window for which the shipping line is paying. Sisson said terminals generally assign one crane for every 1,000 moves. Therefore, a ship calling at a smaller port will work up to two cranes for 2,000 or fewer moves.

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