A containership calling into port involves multiple operations and meticulous planning executed by veritable jugglers. Loading and unloading containers, supplying the daily life of the crew, and a ship to maintain; every action is timed to the last minute to ensure the vessel will be on its way without wasting a moment. Calls that might have taken a week a few years ago are now down to hours, a day for the major calls.
Men and containers
First and foremost a call is about teamwork between the vessel’s crew, the local commercial agent, the ship planner and the terminal’s teams, all focused on one product: the container. A week before the vessel arrives in port, the exchanges begin. The local commercial agent informs of the volume to be loaded, the teams at Head Office list the containers to be discharged. The planner studies all the requirements and produces a plan to ensure rapid loading and discharge, without compromising vessel safety. To this end, all nautical criteria are taken into account: separation of hazardous containers, weight distribution on the vessel, prioritisation based on calls, proximity to electrical plugs for reefer containers, monitoring weather forecasts to assess filling factor options or to optimize space for break bulks, etc.
It’s important to emphasise that the vessel’s own mass represents only 25% of the total mass in motion. Poor distribution of the cargo could break a vessel in two. Lastly, the terminal’s planner makes his comments and suggestions. Exchanges continue right up until the start of operations.
Life on the container-ship to be organised
A containership is also about the daily lives of crew and machines that have to be maintained. It’s about juggling between the frozen, dry and fresh food, and beverages for the voyage. Crew changeovers after one or two rotations, depending on the line, must be done with full knowledge of the facts: the vessel’s condition, constraints and organisation, etc. Lastly, calls are also a chance to carry out maintenance that cannot be done at sea and to pick up spare parts and consumables for routine maintenance during the voyage. Ballast water has to be discharged from time to time and bunkers filled.
Once all these operations have been completed, the vessel can leave port and set sail for the next port of call. A containership today operates 24/7 – 365 days a year. It stops work for only two weeks every seven years to enter a dry dock where it is repainted, the propeller and rudder are inspected, and any major work undertaken.