Integrated traffic management: effective arrangements for efficient shipping

The Scheldt estuary accommodates lots of maritime traffic. The Joint Nautical Authority (JNA) is striving for and committed to integrated traffic management to ensure that all vessels reach their destination safely, smoothly and on time. Reliable and transparent planning is crucial to achieve this.

‘Integrated traffic management' means we optimise the coordination of shipping traffic demand and supply across the entire Joint Nautical Area, in cooperation with all partners in the nautical chain. This is one of our core tasks.

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Why is integrated traffic management essential?

Maritime traffic in the Scheldt estuary has been a challenge since time immemorial, partly due to the sheer volume of vessels on the river. This caused traffic jams in the past, resulting in frustration and loss of time. To resolve this, Flanders and the Netherlands have a longstanding working relationship aimed at safer and more efficient shipping in this zone.

One of the ways they do this is by aligning all partners in the chain as closely as possible. The ports, the pilots, the boatmen ... not to mention the ships themselves: they are all invested in reliable and transparent planning, with as little delay as possible. In other words, integrated traffic management.

What advantages does integrated traffic management offer?

  • Thanks to integrated traffic management, we manage to receive more ships.

The new mega container ships are a great example of this achievement. Due to their considerable draft, the tidal window they can use is very small - only when the tide is high enough. Moreover, as soon as these vessels pass Vlissingen on the river, they can no longer turn around due to their enormous size. It is therefore important to be sure the towing services are available and that a quay berth has been secured. The remaining shipping traffic will be adjusted accordingly,

  • which avoids loss of time, frustration and unnecessary fuel consumption for all chain partners.

After all, planning involves the ‘front door-back door principle’: ships only depart if they can continue to their destination without delay. Waiting until a pilot is available, or until the ship can pass through the lock, is a thing of the past.

  • We are succeeding in planning further ahead.

The chain partners share their projected traffic and capacity. As a result, possible bottlenecks and peak moments in the planning can be identified and dealt with more quickly.

Who’s involved?

Integrated traffic management is made possible in cooperation with all the chain partners involved:

  • Port of Antwerp and North Sea Port
  • the towing services
  • the locks
  • the boatmen
  • the responsible policy units of the Flemish and Dutch governments
  • JNA
  • Vessel Traffic System (VTS)
  • The Flemish and Dutch pilotage organisations

Specific working arrangements are needed in order to coordinate the operation and planning of the partners. These arrangements are drawn up for each nautical chain. There are two nautical chains in the Joint Nautical Management: one for shipping traffic to and from the port of Antwerp, and one for the North Sea Port.

How is planning achieved?

Every partner in the chain works with their own computer system and platform, and these exchange information via a central IT platform, the Central Broker System (CBS), so that each partner has access to the planning.

Integrated traffic management stands or falls on the reliability and transparency of planning. This is achieved in three phases, whereby the information becomes increasingly accurate.

  • Strategic phase: >72 hours

The chain partners share information with each other in order to better align long-term capacity plans, making sure we can address expected peak situations, bad weather, infrastructure works or service bottlenecks in advance.

  • Planning phase: 72 > 8 hours (Port of Antwerp) / 6 hours (North Sea Port)

The shipping companies indicate when their ships are expected to reach the port and when they are expected to depart again. They order the necessary nautical services, such as towing and pilotage.

On the basis of this information, the ports will draw up provisional port planning, taking into account vessel priority, infrastructure constraints, nautical conditions, ...

The chain partners verify the port planning with their own availability and conditions. The JNA mainly checks two matters:

  • Is planning in accordance with the zone’s admission policy?
  • Are there conflicting aspects in the planning of either port? If so, the ports will initially seek a solution by mutual agreement. The JNA will intervene if a solution is not forthcoming. We adopt a port-neutral approach in our resolution.

At the end of the planning phase, executable planning is in place: the chain planning. For the port of Antwerp this is fixed 8 hours in advance, for North Sea Port it is 6 hours in advance.

  • Execution phase: < 8 / 6 hours

Operational implementation in accordance with established chain planning. Adjustments remain possible, but should not lead to delays for other ships.



Why 6 and 8 hours?

Each chain partner used to maintain its own planning horizon. Some examples: Pilotage companies need about 6 hours to bring their pilots from their base to the ship. The towing services require a shorter notice period. Ship's agents were used to even shorter response times.

Thanks to contact and communication as part of dealing with the integrated traffic management mutual understanding for each other's operational functioning grew. All partners are now committed to the same planning horizon, so that the ship's trajectory can be planned from its arrival in Joint Nautical Management area all the way to its destination.

For North Sea Port, this horizon is currently 6 hours. The route from open sea to the port of Antwerp is longer, which means the planning horizon is also longer: 8 hours.

Continuous improvement

  • Learning from mistakes

An inland vessel taking the berth of a seagoing vessel. A nautical service provider arriving too early or just a little too late. Information not being communicated to the other stakeholders in a timely manner ... These are all examples we encounter in the daily execution of the planning.

To learn from these ‘system errors’, the Comité Ketenverstoringen Antwerpen (CKA, Antwerp Chain Disruption Committee) was established in 2015. The CKA analyses situations that proved less than optimal chain operation, and this analysis is used to make recommendations for improvement. If necessary, the working arrangements between the partners are adjusted. Such a committee is also being set up for the nautical chain of North Sea Port.

All chain partners are represented in the committee, led by a neutral chair and secretary from the Common Nautical Administration. Each chain partner can confidently submit case studies or proposals to improve the chain. The minutes of the meetings are shared with the employees of all parties.

The result?

  • transparent planning
  • better enforcement of the agreements
  • more insight into the processes of the other nautical partners
  • JNA stays up-to-date with new developments

The JNA monitors developments that have an impact on shipping in this zone, such as:

  • scale-up of the shipping industry
  • modifications to the infrastructure (e.g. additional container capacity Antwerp (ECA))
  • the Scheldt-Seine connection development of passenger transport by water

These developments may be an impetus for reviewing the working arrangements together with the partners. As it stands, the working arrangements are evaluated periodically in any case.

  • Vision for the future

Integrated traffic management for maritime shipping is already very advanced. In a next step, we want to extend integrated traffic management to include all waterway users, including inland navigation. A pilot project is currently underway.

We're also looking further ahead. Together with the chain partners, JNA is conducting a reflection exercise that should result in a future vision of integrated traffic management for the ports of Antwerp and North Sea Port by the end of 2020. What have we achieved so far? What could do with fine-tuning? And how should the integrated traffic management evolve in future?