Port Master Planning; key aspects for a resilient port

What is a Port Master Planning?

A Port Master Planning establishes strategic policies and guidelines over the medium to long term to direct the future development of a port. It aims to describe how a port must grow and adapt in accordance with the evolution of future traffic growth, any predicted expansion, changes in the way it operates, use of new technologies and other factors.

The results of a good master plan should be seen in an improvement of the effectiveness of the whole port system by means of a better use of the available resources, reduction of bottlenecks, reduced land use conflicts and improvement of the quality of the hinterland connections, among other benefits.

To ensure a sustainable development of a port, there are different factors that should be considered form the initial phases of this planning exercise.

Ports evolve over time

Ports are in a constant change over the time in order to accommodate the demand of its hinterland, the relationship between the port and the city, the increasing size of the vessels or the modernization of the handling equipment. Hence, when defining a masterplan we should always bear in mind that port infrastructure is very durable and should be designed taking its resilience into account, with flexible solutions that does not compromise future developments. A flexible port will have the capability to change and to be functional under new, different or evolving requirements with minimal extra investment and without appreciable loss in overall service quality. This way, the port will be able to respond to the unknowable in a timely and cost-effective manner. Nevertheless, what are the possible design strategies to cope with the unknowable? Designs based on spacious marine layout, terminal areas with sufficient depth and length, long quays to improve the flexibility for operations and vessel berthing, adaptability with regard to allocation of terminal concessions. Also important to consider the possibility to extend quays and terminals when necessary without serious constraints created by the need for disproportionately expensive construction or infrastructure designed in such way that it can cope with technical changes of the vessels, superstructure, equipment, etc.

The Spiral Planning Process

Port planning is a complex and multidisciplinary activity. The different aspects or disciplines are very much interrelated and no conclusion in one field can be drawn and maintained without taking cognizance of the findings in other fields. Hence, port-planning becomes an iterative process where the outputs will be spirally updated.

The spiral process starts with a contextualization of the port and a review of the current facilities and operations. For the case of a greenfield development, the selection of its location is determined through an optioneering assessment. The projected traffic will help to define the future requirements, which will be quantified with the related capacity assessment in order to execute the development of the port in a phased manner. Once the port requirements have been defined, a spacial distribution of the different activities is set out providing the general layout of the port. At a second level, each of the port terminals have to be planned with the infrastructure and equipment required to capture the current and projected traffic. The resultant preliminary port masterplanning is presented to the stakeholders involved on the process to be evaluated and potentially optimized.

It is important to note that at any stage of this process, inputs may change or new alternatives could arise, which could require moving back to a prior stage of the spiral to redefine the planning conditions.

A description of the most important stages of a port master planning is presented below.

Site selection for a greenfield port

Being a port a place, either on the seashore or riverside, with the main function of allowing vessels to safely unload and load passengers and cargo, the selection of the correct location for its development is crucial. This selection must consider factors such as the bathymetry of the area which may condition the need of dredging or the extra cost of building deep quay infrastructure, soil conditions, sheltered water, climate conditions (main wind, current and wave directions), sufficient land areas or good connectivity with its hinterland.

Port zoning

Once the location of a greenfield port or area has been established, the distribution of the different activities within the plot is to be defined. On one side we can have a large variety of cargoes to be handled (e.g. containers, dry bulks, liquid bulks, RoRo, passengers, etc..) but also, for a specific cargo, different activities (e.g. handling ship to shore, storing, inspection, cargo consolidation, equipment maintenance, etc…) can be undertaken within the port boundaries. For a higher efficiency on the port handling operations, cargoes of different nature tend to be physically separated (usually with different concessions and terminal operators). This segregation is done from not only an efficiency perspective but also considering potential contamination issues or dangerous situations. That is the case, for example, of locating inflammable products closer to the entrance of the port as in case of fire it would be quicker to evacuate the vessel. Another rule is to prevent handling clean dry bulks (e.g. cereals) close to other bulks such as coal or cement to avoid cross-contamination. For the case of an importing terminal of vehicles, the storage should be allocated in an area sheltered from the wind and dust to prevent damaging them.

Figure 2. Marseille East Port stands from 1863 and has been growing over the years with different specialized terminals, being currently a port integrated within the city

Further considerations on port zoning are regarding the water frontage. It is an expensive commodity in a port and should be allocated with appropriate thrift and basically to those activities related to handling cargo or passengers from sea to shore. In addition, when settling port zoning preferences, the economics of construction and maintenance should be considered (e.g.: subsoil conditions such as bearing capacity and anticipated settlement). Finally, the port connectivity infrastructure with its hinterland (e.g. road and rail network) as well as the existing utilities could affect the distribution of the different areas according to the requirements of each type of cargo.

Terminal requirements

Focusing now at the masterplan of a terminal, the main inputs to be considered are the type of product/s to be handled (single or multiple), the direction of the cargo flow (import, export, transshipment), size of calling vessels, annual throughput and traffic forecast among others.

The main areas that comprise a port terminal are the quay side, apron, storage yard or warehouses, access gates, truck parking, auxiliary area for maintenance and administration offices. The dimensions and requirements of each of them are critical for an effective design. As a rule of thumb, the typical area distribution is 10% for the quay area, 75% for storing, 10% for the rail and truck terminal and 5% for other uses.

One of the first elements to define when designing the terminal infrastructure is which vessels are going to be used as a reference, by setting the average and maximum sizes. For instance, the ships transporting containers differ in size and specifications. A market assessment would give us valuable inputs on what type of vessels should be used as a reference by defining its LOA (Length Over All), beam and draft. As a matter of fact, the characteristics of the ships directly impact the design of the berths’ length and depth, the size of the maneouvring area, the width of the navigational channel and the number of berths available. Therefore, it is necessary to define which ships will call each port’s terminal in the short, mid and long term

In terms of quay side, the berth depth will be determined by the largest vessel expected to call the terminal considering the future scenarios. On the other hand, the total quay length is calculated considering the number of required berthing positions, the LOA of the largest ship and the safety distance between berthing positions.

Container terminal requirements

In the case of a container terminal, infrastructure basic criteria can be taken in order to maximize its operational efficiency:

  • Alignment of the berths in order to allow a maximum usage of the quay and the cranes providing a greater flexibility on the vessels’ allocation
  • The storage area should be located in a rectangular shape in front of the quay side, with two possibilities of installing the RTG blocks: parallel or perpendicular to the quay edge. The dimension of this storage area is estimated as 400 m2 of yard per meter of quay
  • As many trucks need to circulate across the terminal the circulation within the terminal and within the overall port needs to be thought through and designed adequately
  • The number of access gates required will be conditioned by the terminal’s gateway traffic and should be calculated separately for the entry and exit routes. The technology installed (automatic or semi-automatic control systems, video cameras) will influence the gates processing time, which is longer on the entry process
  • Finally, the integration of the railway will enables a true multimodal network

In terms of equipment, the number of units and type required to handle containers can be determined through a benchmark based on their productivity ratios.

For instance, the dimension of the quay cranes (boom and height) basically depends on the width of the vessels they need to load and unload. Distance between STS cranes when operating is estimated as 100m approx., a figure that allow determining the number of cranes serving a vessel simultaneously (1.8 cranes per vessels ideally). The productivity per quay crane is set within a range between 20 to 30 movements / hour according to benchmark data. The gross productivity can be deducted from the net operating productivity by adding back 6% of number of moves.

The number of yard equipment to be used at the terminal generally is dimensioned considering the number of ship to shore cranes but also considering any potential operational disruptions caused by equipment’s failure or maintenance.

In summary, there is a wide variety of factors that need to be carefully evaluated when defining the strategy for developing a port so that the infrastructure could be adaptable to the future needs but also satisfy the present demand by minimizing the investment to build it. Ports with a Master Plan in place may potentially be more marketable to shipping lines and logistics operators, as such plans suggest to lines that a port has conducted a thorough economic, capital, and infrastructure diagnostic of the subject facility.

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About the authors
Anna Díaz Llop holds a MSc in Civil Engineering and is Engagement Manager at ALG. adllop@alg-global.com
Maria Garcia Mateo holds a MSc in Coastal Civil Engineering and is Sr. Consultant at ALG. mgmateo@alg-global.com
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