Port Resilience: How To Make Ports Immune To Future Disruptions

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What does port resilience entail?

Port resilience is described as the capacity of ports to anticipate and respond to changing situations, as well as to survive and/or quickly recover from disruptions, with the goal of preserving the sustainability of operations and flow of cargo to, from, and through ports.

Due to the multitude of interdependencies inherent in supply chains, the breakdown of any node in the network can have an immediate impact on demographics, their safety, and well-being, as well as on the regional economy and its enterprises.

View the port of Shanghai in FleetMon Explorer

Why is it critical for ports to be resilient?

Ports are responsible for linking the world economy, handling roughly 90% of all global trade. Additionally, the shipping industry generates approximately 940 million tonnes of CO2 each year, accounting for roughly 2.5 % greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In port operation and management, the concept of resilience becomes more essential as a transportation node, supply chain, and regional economy become more significant. Because ports are susceptible to a variety of interruptions, it is critical to have facilities and operations that are capable of quickly recovering from a setback. This suggests that a maritime transportation system is capable of learning and adapting to past setbacks.

Disruptions impacting ports

Disruptions can stem from a variety of factors; some are foreseeable, many are accidental, and others are unanticipated. Problems can be intrinsic to port operations if they are caused by reasons within the port’s jurisdiction, such as equipment failure due to bad maintenance or a security breach caused by a lack of safety measures. Ports can also be affected externally when the causes of the events are beyond the port’s authority, such as a hurricane or an economic crisis.

A. Severe weather conditions

As is the case with the majority of means of transport, maritime transportation can be affected by extreme weather conditions. When it comes to extreme weather, however, ports have one of the most robust infrastructures in the business. Snowstorms, thunderstorms, and strong winds can disrupt crane operations and possibly collapse containers, but the risk of infrastructure damage is minimal. Extreme heat can endanger port activities and destroy structural components by thermal expansion. Hurricanes are the ones to worry about, as they can shut down port operations for several days while floodwaters recede and debris is cleaned.

Additional natural dangers to port operations exist under the umbrella of multifaceted consequences of climate change, many of which are uncertain and difficult to quantify. Along with the risk of hurricanes, sea-level rise is a direct worry for port activity. Port terminals, on the other hand, are robust structures intended to withstand tidal ranges. Any anticipated sea-level rise will almost certainly have an effect on nearby infrastructures, such as access roads, before wreaking havoc on port infrastructure. Climate change may also have an effect on ports’ hinterland linkages.

In late May 2021, Cyclone Tauktae had wreaked havoc on India’s west coast. The storm had a devastating effect on the Indian state of Gujarat. The Port of Pipavav had to halt operations until 1st June 2021 in order to compensate for the damage caused by Cyclone Tauktae. The port’s infrastructure remained intact, and no fatalities were recorded, although the port was impacted by a power outage.

B. Human-induced disruptions

●     Accidents

Anthropogenic disruptions are linked to human activities, especially management and operational failures and labor disorders. While terminal facility accidents can be obstructive, the vast majority have a negligible effect on total capacity. Ship maneuvering errors have caused damage to piers and even toppled cranes, ending in terminal capacity loss and the need for costly repairs. Although infrastructure and machinery mishaps might produce periodic disruptions, they can be minimized through predictive maintenance and operational security.

Accidents in the access channel could also partially or completely shut port terminals or transoceanic routes. In the most unpleasant situation, an accident on the port’s access route (fairway or lock) could result in the port’s whole or partial closure. The repercussions of a port blockade vary by port, depending on the available alternatives. A blocked entry has the direct consequence of preventing maritime traffic from entering the port for the period of the blockage. This would mean that routine maritime activities would come to a standstill for at least a few days, if not months.

One of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history destroyed the Beirut port and ruined more than half of the city on August 4, 2020, owing to decades of government mismanagement and corruption at the port. The catastrophe was caused by the explosion of tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly flammable chemical substance that is often used in agriculture as a high-nitrate fertilizer but can also be used to make explosives.

●     Labor conflicts

Strikes caused by labor conflicts can potentially hinder port and terminal operations, resulting in a de facto port or terminal closure. Labor unions are often prominent in port environments, however, significant disparities in union power exist between seaports and countries. Labor unions (representing dockworkers and pilots) initiate the majority of port strikes in opposition to proposed port reform schemes, legislation of nautical service provision, wage levels, and compensation, and overall working environment and provisions as part of collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

●    Economic and geopolitical events

Geopolitical events, notable conflicts, have a significant disruptive effect on the ports involved. Port infrastructure can be damaged, destroyed, and neglected as a result of the conflict. In return, it jeopardizes their ability to fulfill basic demand for critical goods. Economic restraints can have a detrimental effect on port activity in both the sanctioned country’s ports and those of its trading partners.

This is another category of disruptions that are related to the derived demand of ports. The activities of ports are tied to external demand sources that are generally beyond their command. Economic and political crises can interrupt port operations indirectly by affecting cargo demand.

Ports developing in highly volatile markets are vulnerable to frequent and tricky traffic fluctuations, as evidenced by Argentinian ports such as Buenos Aires, which have progressed slowly over the last two decades but have undergone a series of fluctuations.

C. Cybersecurity risks at ports

To increase profitability, the bulk of port operators have progressively incorporated cybertechnology into their operations. However, this digitalization has created a significant weakness to the growing cyber threat. In any event, the port sector must deal with the fast development of digitalization and the dangers connected with it in order to sustain efficient and profitable operations, especially given the vulnerability to disruption.

In late July of this year, a cyberattack on the African Ports Network posed a Food Supply Crisis. This lethal assault on South Africa’s state-owned ports and cargo rail operator compelled it to declare its second breach in less than a month.

Ports are becoming increasingly reliant on technology to maintain competitiveness, comply with specific laws and standards, and optimize operations. This raises the bar and complexity of cybersecurity, both in the domains of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). In early August 2021, a hardware failure suspended operations at Houston container terminal.

However, as a consequence of the fast development of digitalization, ports today confront a slew of cybersecurity issues, some of which are quite generic and applicable to any IT or OT system, while others are rather specific to port settings. Despite the problems and negative repercussions of a cyberattack, it is essential for ports to strengthen their security practices.

Time-lapse view of marine traffic in Singapore port with FleetMon Explorer

Strategy to improve port resilience

Enhancing port resilience needs adaptation strategies that either mitigate the severity of disruptions or expedite recovery. The following are the most prevalent:

Improving the port infrastructure resistance to natural hazards such as earthquakes and manmade risks such as accidents and hazardous substances.

  • Developing traffic diversion methods that take into account the closure of specific port elements, such as a terminal or an access corridor. This may demand the usage of alternative terminals within the port. For hinterland access, this may entail the use of a different mode or corridor.
  • Preparedness is frequently advised as a technique for mitigating damage and entails the installation of equipment, components, and material to replace or repair destroyed infrastructure. Additionally, it helps to identify individuals who must be on hand to administer the terminal and repair damaged foundations and facilities.
  • To avoid industrial accidents, hazardous material rules must be strictly enforced. Industrial mishaps, on the other hand, frequently occur not as a result of non-compliance with laws, but because authorities are unaware of the extent, and conditions under which hazardous goods can be housed within port facilities.
  • Concerns about cybersecurity have stressed the importance of investing in information technologies as a critical component of port resilience.
  • The most dramatic mitigating technique is the relocation of terminal facilities to lower-risk locales. It can occur when a terminal has been damaged to the point where repairs are no longer economically viable, and shutting down the terminal becomes the only option. A new location is thus chosen that is more resilient and less prone to interruptions.

Port authorities can make a significant contribution to risk minimization and flexibility. A prime example of this potential is the diversity of the responses and measures created by port authorities in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the development of resilience capacity and the mitigation of substantial operational interruptions.

The asserted adaption mechanisms’ ultimate purpose is to sustain operational port facilities, primarily as a critical node supporting supply networks all around the globe.

Hear Carsten Hilgenfeld, FleetMon’s  Head of Research & Development at the MARISSA Days 2021 Conference, which will focus on stabilization and robustness of international logistics chains by addressing possible malfunction or failure of software in the process.

Date: 14th September 2021
Time: 10 am-1 pm CEST.
Register for the event: https://marissa-days.org/Marissa-Days/