Optimising of container barge handling

The Antwerp port community is pursuing coordinated initiatives, that started in October 2018, with a combination of measures for scheduling & collaboration, consolidation and digitisation of container barge transport. The aim of the Container Barge Action Plan is to allow for further expansion of the port in a sustainable way, by raising efficiency among all participants in the supply chain.

The 5 initiatives are:

1. Resources & dedicated berths  


The dock labour shortage has been eliminatedby means of training plans introduced by CEPA (freight handlers association). In addition further efforts have been directed towards dedicated berths for container barges. The dedicated barge quay at DP World was handed over in June 2019. In a further move, PSA terminal 869 is due to get a dedicated barge berth on the Scheldt by the end of Q3 2019.

2. Scheduling & collaboration  


The project of central barge scheduling & monitoring, with a single office drawing up the handling schedules for the PSA, MPET and DPW terminals, has been unanimously hailed as a success and will be structurally expanded. The necessary steps for extending the system to additional terminals will follow in the next few months. In the meantime further efforts will be directed towards 24/7 scheduling and monitoring.

Further scheduling initiatives:


During the past few months great efforts have been put into exploring a number of new approaches to provide as much stability as possible for scheduling. One of these is the introduction of time frames for large, regular movements. Reliability and proactive communication are crucial in this matter. The time frames will be defined in bilateral agreements between barge operators on the one hand and the maritime terminals (DP World, MPET and PSA) on the other.


Other efforts concentrate on making greater use of weekend capacity in the maritime terminals. At the moment, requests for handling slots are mainly concentrated on 5 of the 7 days of the week. The barge community is being strongly urged to make as much use of weekend capacity as possible.


The MPET and DP World terminals for their part have increased the minimum number of teams devoted to container barge handling that was included in the gentlemen's agreement. This means that MPET will devote at least eight and DP World at least six teams during weekdays .


At the moment barge operators are not always aware of the situation when the slot requested by them is already occupied. In future the Barge Traffic System (BTS) will automatically issue a warning when this happens, thus enabling operators to modify their scheduling if possible.

3. Consolidation of small volumes 



The pilot project for consolidation of small volumes aims to increase the call sizes of barges at the maritime terminals in order to optimise handling.

How does it work?

Bundling of volumes can take place via cooperation with other operators or the exchange of containers in the hinterland, whether or not via the hubs mentioned hereunder. Barge operators can bundle volumes at the consolidation hubs at a transhipment cost of 5 euros. The consolidation hubs then organise the transport to and from the maritime terminals at a fixed transport rate per hub. 


Since the start in 2018, the container barge sector has managed to reduce the number of calls at the maritime terminals by around 40%, while the average call size has increased by about 25%; a notable achievement for the sector. From the evaluation it emerged that all those involved are eager to maintain the concept of consolidating small volumes, but that a number of adjustments have to be made to the concept.
The changes are as follows:
- The minimum call size is being lowered to 20 moves per maritime terminal. In the case of MPET this will apply to just one of the two quays (1742 or 1718) and will no longer be the sum of both.
- The operation of the subsidised hubs in the ports (ATO and PSA 667) will cease.  
- The operation of the consolidation hubs in the consolidation hubs in the hinterland will be maintained, at the current rates.  
This concept will apply from 1 September 2019 for a period of nine months (until 31/05/2020).

4. Digitisation 


The "Next Mode of Transport" and "Green Lights" use-cases have been developed by NxtPort and are now ready for testing. An information session on this subject will be held at the beginning of September, with more information to follow in the course of August. 

5. Longer period for reduced port stay


The period during which reduced rates are charged for port stay was increased from 36 to 48 hours in September 2018. This initiative by the Port Authority is in response to demand from the sector.


Marjan Beelen

Mobility Advisor Breakbulk, Liquid & Dry bulk
+32 3 205 21 19

Dominique Vercauteren

Mobility Advisor Containers
+32 3 205 22 64