Event: Capacity constraints, 2013–2014

The Port of Hamburg experienced a disruption in 2013 and 2014 due to capacity constraints created by the size of ships calling at the port and related increase in the number of port calls. This capacity constraint, coupled with a series of storms, caused delays for vessels calling at the port and generated bottlenecks at container yards.

Causes and impact

The disruption at the Port of Hamburg was due to its operation at full capacity, leading to congestion (Port News, 2016). Factors amplified the bottlenecks included: (i) storms and bad winter weather conditions impairing navigation; (ii) a high concentration of local exports serviced by big ships that can only operate within specific timeframes and which are non-divertible to other ports; (iii) large vessels schedule delays of 3-4 days on average and up to 6 days, leading to complex operational planning; (iv) ultra-large container vessels could only berth during specific high-tide windows; (v) calls by trucks mainly occur between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., with consequent road congestions at peak hours; and (vi) rush hour congestion also occurred for feeder services as they were unable to dock, creating further delays across the transport chain (Van Marle G., 2014).

Over the first months of 2014, one-quarter of the port’s storage capacity for export containers was unavailable as large volumes of export containers accumulated while waiting for the arrival of incoming vessels. The average dwell time for a container doubled and container terminal capacity reached saturation, preventing vessels from berth and feeder lines to operate whenever mega-ships were at port.

Response and mitigation measures

The Port of Hamburg considered using an alternative terminal to load/discharge containers at an extra cost for the shipping companies. However, this solution was never implemented as weather conditions improved. The port used additional yards and equipment to expand storage capacity and put in place immediate actions to enhance the coordination with truckers (Beermann N., 2014). Additional empty container areas in the immediate proximity of terminals were created to reduce the volume of truck-based transshipment within the port. Forwarders and haulers expanded the time of their operations beyond peak hours (at night/weekends). Moreover, technological projects were accelerated to promote real-time visibility and coordination across all port stakeholders (Härtel J., 2016), including: (i) rolling out the Port River Information System Elbe (PRISE) in 2014, which optimized waterway traffic; (ii) the implementation of the truck appointment/slot system and trucks parking space management application, using transparent telematic support; (iii) deployment of a port road management information system to gather real-time traffic information across the hinterland; and (iv) the introduction of tablets or smartphones to exchange information quickly.

Lessons learned and good practice

  • Hinterland connectivity (Biermann F., 2016) is critical and should be improved to ensure greater port resilience.
  • Enhance technology to sustain better communication among port stakeholders, optimize arrivals and departures of vessels and ensure early warnings regarding bottlenecks.
  • IoT and Blockchain technologies can help diversify freight forwarding services by providing real-time visibility, enhanced interactions and early warnings (Notteboom T., 2016).
  • Reframe the concept competition and favor coopetition and shared value creation thinking, including with hinterland transport operators (Kasiske F., 2019).