Floating terminals could unlock the potential for short sea shipping

SUNY Maritime College’s Peter Milich presented his research at CMA Shipping 2023 on the potential benefits of floating mobile ports for container shipping – assets that currently exist only as a concept.

Milich said mobile ports hold potential for the shortsea shipping market in particular, as the non-seafaring trade puts ships in direct competition with rail and road freight. Opening up short sea shipping means access to greater economies of scale, greater fuel efficiency and reduced environmental impact, Milich said.

“Additionally… the use of shipping requires far less dedicated land use and investment in infrastructure, freeing up public funds that can be used for other projects,” he added.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News, Milich said his research included looking at other potential social benefits such as reduced road wear from reducing truck traffic – a major contributor to road and highway degradation.

Despite the advantages of short sea shipping, trucking is treated as the standard shipping method worldwide, Milich argued, and one of the reasons for this is the high frequency of services that road transport can provide compared to sea and rail.

“If you have larger vehicles going with more cargo, they can only do so so often, while trucks can be in and out of ports constantly to provide a continuous service. This has been identified in several studies as a major obstacle to the expansion of short sea shipping,” said Milich.

Mobile ports – mobile offshore platforms or dedicated vessels with gantry cranes and box storage areas – could offer a solution to some of the problems faced by short sea shipping by increasing the flexibility of the mode of transport.

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Floating ports could reduce the number of movements required to get a container from origin to destination and could even be placed far from shore to reduce the need for inland navigation and mooring pilotage services.

“My proposal is to roll out mobile ports to all major ports in a given region to act as network hubs for ships from outside the region, and then allow the mobile ports to lighten that cargo from the large ocean-going vessels to smaller feeder vessels and.” distribute them across the region with higher frequency and a lower overall price,” said Milich.

While container shipping is probably the most cost effective proposition for such mobile ports, platforms to provide lighter services could also be developed for bulk, liquid bulk, car carriers and other cargoes.

“This whole idea could be extended to all short sea shipping, not just containers,” Milich said.

Milich’s paper won third prize in the 2023 Connecticut Maritime Association Education Foundation Business of Shipping, earning him a $1,000 prize.

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