Digital platform for inland waterways

HVCC
For ten years, the HVCC has served as a central, neutral and cross-company coordination point, optimising ship traffic coming in and out of the Port of Hamburg. Image: HHLA/ Nele Martensen
Inland waterway vessels
Inland waterway vessels of BCF Börde Container Feeder GmbH in the Elbe-Seiten Channel on their way to and from Hamburg. Image: BCF
Industry Database

A new digital platform for ship management promises to make Hamburg's waterways more sustainable

As the largest seaport in Germany and the country’s second largest inland port, Hamburg attracts approximately 10,000 inland waterway vessel movements each year at its handling facilities on the Elbe.

Central coordination of vessels is now becoming a reality for this busy port, with the Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center developing a digital platform specifically for inland waterway vessels.

The platform will form a new addition to a range of existing digitised processes at the port. Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the HVCC, the new concept was announced in May this year.

During the first ten years of its operations, the HVCC has served as a central, neutral and cross-company coordination point, optimising ship traffic coming in and out of the Port of
Hamburg.

The HVCC grew out of a partnership between Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG and Eurogate Container Terminal Hamburg GmbH, with the Feeder Logistics Center
(FLC) established in 2009 to more efficiently coordinate feeder ships. Inland waterway vessels soon came within this organisation’s remit.

As increasing numbers of mega-ships began to call at the port, the coordination was expanded through the Nautical Terminal Coordination (NTC) department in close cooperation
with the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA).

Continuous improvement 

In 2015, the joint venture was rebranded as the Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center. Its remit is to exchange data and to continuously improve the port system as a whole with as many parties involved as possible.

Most shipping companies that call at the Port of Hamburg with mega-ships now make use of NTC’s services, while the FLC coordinates the rotation of over 4,000 feeder terminal calls.

The drive to develop a dedicated inland shipping platform arose from the continued growth in container transportation by inland waterway vessels in Hamburg. Since 2012, the annual volume of container traffic reaching or leaving the Port of Hamburg by inland waterway vessels has grown by 40% to over 128,000 standard containers (TEUs).

Complicating matters still further, the port experiences a large number of transports conducted between terminals via inland waterway vessels.

“HVCC's new inland shipping platform aims to enhance the inland waterway vessel as a powerful and environmentally friendly mode of transport and to make greater use of its
potential as a major pillar of hinterland traffic to and from the Port of Hamburg,” says Gerald Hirt, managing director of HVCC.

“The improved plannability for barge operators and terminals will lead to an increase in efficiency in the handling of inland waterway vessels, which in turn will lead to a reduction in emissions. In addition, road traffic will be relieved by increasing ‘water-to-water transshipments’ – this means transports conducted between terminals via inland waterway vessels.”

According to Managing Director of HVCC Gerald Hirt, “The new platform will make it possible to digitise and enhance the transparency of the planning of inland waterway vessel arrivals in Hamburg, the coordination of rotations within the port, the assignment of berths and terminal handling.”

A network for data exchange

Effectively, the platform creates a network between inland shipping companies, ship operators, terminals and public authorities, ensuring the smooth exchange of data between all
parties involved.

In addition to HVCC client BCF Börde Container Feeder GmbH, other partners involved in the project are Deutsche Binnenreederei AG, Carl Robert Eckelmann GmbH and Walter Lauk Ewerführerei GmbH.

While the growth in container traffic is accompanied by risk of adverse environmental impacts in the waterways in and around Hamburg, until now there has been a lack of information available to help the port and its stakeholders anticipate, measure and reduce these impacts.

“So far, the potential of the environmentally friendly inland waterway vessel has not been fully exploited due to waiting times and lack of transparency,” says Mr Hirt. “HVCC’s new inland shipping platform is intended to achieve comprehensive planning and data transparency for all parties involved. This will reduce rotation times of inland waterway vessels in the port, optimise resource planning at the terminals and at the same time increase handling volumes.”

Currently, each shipping company handles the advance planning of its ships independently, giving rise to the need for a high degree of bilateral coordination between the parties.

The HVCC’s new platform will allow for centralised inland ship coordination, thus eliminating inefficiency along the transport chain. There will also be increased transparency of planning data, leading to a higher degree of reliability of processing for all involved.

Despite the evident benefits of the digital platform, there were significant challenges in developing and implementing it, says Mr Hirt. “A lot of convincing had to be done. Sharing own data and information is not an easy step. However, the HVCC has proven in the past that collaborative decision making is the right way to meet the challenges of managing traffic flows. This is already demonstrated by the HVCC's large ship and feeder coordination.”

At the launch of the platform, BCF Managing Director Hergen Hanke welcomed the continued development of the HVCC services. “We have been a partner of the HVCC for three years, and we expect to see further optimisation of port rotations and minimisation of port waiting times from the inland shipping platform,” he said.

A boost for inland shipping

According to the HVCC, improved predictability of ship calls and optimised use of terminal infrastructure capacity are critical for the terminals. Overall, the aim is to enhance inland
shipping’s position as an effective and environmentally friendly mode of transport and to make use of its great potential as a key pillar of hinterland traffic.

Hamburg’s Senator for Economic Affairs Michael Westhagemann has described the HVCC as “an institution…unique in Europe. It has evolved to become an established player in the maritime world and is a best-practice example of digitalisation in action in the Port of Hamburg. The development of a coordination platform for inland shipping will further boost the competitiveness of this sustainable transport mode. As a port city, Hamburg can only benefit from this.”

The development of the new inland shipping platform is being undertaken by DAKOSY Datenkommunikationsystem AG, with financial support from the Hamburg Ministry for the
Economy, Transport and Innovation. A pilot system is expected to enter a test phase in the third quarter of 2019, with full operation set to start early in 2020.

Looking ahead, it is possible that Hamburg’s pilot platform might act as a template for other ports seeking to improve the efficiency and sustainability of their inland waterways.

“What is special about the Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center is that it was initiated by terminals and not by a port authority,” notes Mr Hirt. “The focus was therefore on operational optimisation. If the players recognise the added value, the new inland shipping platform can certainly serve as a role model for other locations.”

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