Infrastructure Upgrades: Port of Barcelona and Port of Virginia

June 4, 2019

 |  Newsletter

As global trade has flourished and ocean carriers have deployed mega vessels for greater efficiency, many ports have experienced growing congestion and limits to the vessel sizes that can berth. To manage the current and future growth, ports around the world have been making large investments in port infrastructure.

Terminals from Chittagong to Savannah to Tangier have been expanding and upgrading their infrastructure to improve supply chain velocity. Upgrades include expanding container yards to handle more containers, dredging ports to allow for larger vessels at the terminals, and updating cranes that are higher and longer to span the largest vessels.

When ports make infrastructure upgrades, what is the potential impact on port performance? To find out, CargoSmart’s Vessel Voyage Monitoring Center (GVVMC) conducted a study in May 2019 to review the before and after performance of ports that have made recent upgrades. We reviewed the performance of two ports that have recently implemented port upgrade projects, the Port of Barcelona and the Port of Virginia. While both ports have numerous projects in development, we focused on updates that accommodate mega vessels and have been recently completed.

The Port of Barcelona – BEST Raises Cranes

The Port of Barcelona consists of two container terminals, APM Terminals Barcelona and Barcelona Europe South Terminal (BEST). BEST increased its capacity by raising the height of three out of its 11 ship-­to­shore container cranes.

  • Placed into service in January 2018
  • Raised cranes from 42 meters to 47 meters
  • Newly raised cranes can handle containers that are stacked up to 11-high on decks
  • BEST is the only terminal in the Mediterranean with 11 cranes capable of handling the world’s largest container vessels.

The Port of Virginia – VIG Extends Berth Space and Adds Cranes for Mega Vessels

The Port of Virginia has been implementing a $700 million infrastructure project at its terminals. In response to the Panama Canal expansion, the port is making updates to handle larger vessels at two of its container terminals, Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) and Virginia International Gateway (VIG). As part of the updates, VIG has added 800 feet of berth space and four new cranes.

  • New cranes placed into service in March 2019
  • Four new super post-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes, largest on the U.S. East Coast
    • 170-foot-tall from the deck to the boom
    • 446 feet high with the boom up
  • Enable the Port of Virginia to handle six 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously and greater annual container throughput.

Scope of Analysis

To analyze whether the Barcelona and Virginia terminal upgrade projects have helped to improve port performance for mega vessels with a capacity of 10,000 TEUs or greater, we examined:

  • Number of vessel arrivals
  • Vessel berth times
  • Vessel arrival and departure delays.

For Barcelona, we analyzed the performance in February 2017 and February 2018, the month following when the three cranes were raised at BEST.

For Virginia, we analyzed the performance in April 2018 and April 2019, the month following when the four new cranes went into operation at VIG.

Context Matters for Port Performance

After reviewing BEST and VIG, two terminals that have recently implemented upgrades to accommodate larger vessels, we did not find a clear pattern relating to port performance. Immediately after its upgrades, BEST had fewer mega vessel arrivals than in the past, while VIG had more than twice as many mega vessel arrivals. While berth times decreased at BEST, they increased at VIG for the mega vessels. And lastly, average vessel arrival and departure delays decreased at BEST and increased slightly at VIG for mega vessels.

In terms of port performance, context matters. Port strikes, surges in TEU volumes, and on-time vessel schedule trends by region and trade lane that are not related to port infrastructure changes can impact performance. The port infrastructure upgrades that we reviewed enable the ports to be ready for larger vessels and greater container volumes.

It may be helpful to review performance over the long term and to review efficiencies across all aspects of port operations (berths, stacks, rail, and truck gates) as the ports continue to implement their projects to determine trends after the updates.

Findings by the Numbers

Here is a summary of findings for the BEST and VIG terminals:

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The GVVMC shares statistics on port performance so that you can better plan your shipments to select schedules and routings to avoid delays. The statistics reflect the general situation in the past. The future performance of the vessels and ports will depend on the actual situation that could be affected by weather, vessel delays, and other factors.

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