Ship to Port Communications Week 2023: Roundup

PSS has been emphasising the importance of Ship to Port communications. A number of key contact points were highlighted where different teams have to work together, this can be especially difficult where the teams only come in to contact with each other that one time. Across the campaign week, a number of those involved in a ships’ visit shared their priorities and communications challenges.

‘Once the vessel enquiry is received, the local agent puts together an accurate summary of anticipated costs for the port call,’ explained Tom Boothby, a port agent for Clarksons Port Services. ‘In this, they also include important information that may impact the shipment. This can be information regarding congestion, tides, or other events like berth maintenance.’

For seafarers coming into port, the first contact with shore personnel will likely be with vessel traffic services and the pilot station. ‘For the bridge team, the pilot is always a useful source of information about the port and how to get ashore, but their time on board is necessarily limited,’ explained Captain Ashley Parker, port master for the Port of Felixstowe.

Upon berthing, the agent boards the vessel to complete all necessary paperwork and formalities – nothing compares to a face-to-face visit from the agent when the vessel arrives. Throughout the port call, the agent continually monitors progress, this involves multiple daily conversations with the port teams as well as surveyors to confirm the anticipated time and date that cargo operations will be completed.

‘As the port call progresses, our agent continually monitors the progress of the operation,’ continues Tom Boothby ‘This will involve multiple daily conversations with the port teams as well as surveyors to establish the anticipated time and date that cargo operations will be completed.

‘On some cargoes it is also necessary to monitor the weather, providing accurate rain times on legal documentation. By doing this, the owners and charterers are able to calculate any demurrage/despatch that may be due and any factors that may impact this calculation. Once the estimated time of completion is calculated, the agent will start to notify port authorities, pilots, towage companies and the vessel itself regarding preparation for departure. If the vessel’s next voyage is known, the agent will update the appointed agent at the next port of the vessel expected departure to allow them to prepare for the vessel’s upcoming arrival.’

Once in port, the operational teamwork with the crew to perform discharge. Communications can sometimes be difficult as the port team and vessel crew don’t always speak the same languages, as Ben McIntosh, port operator at the Port of Dundee, Forth Ports explains:

‘I’m notified of incoming vessel arrivals the previous day by my Operational Supervisor, I’ll come in early to complete my pre-use checks, fuel up and move the Sennebogen material handler to an appropriate position near the vessel. Our roles within the discharge are allocated during our pre-shift briefing where it’s made clear what our responsibilities and task instructions are.

‘Communication during trimming can be difficult as the trimming gang and vessel crew don’t always speak the same languages.

Communication is noticeably easier with crew from nations surrounding the UK such as the Netherlands or Spain. We always need to work safely and communicate as best we can; we’ll often rely on the chief or agent to communicate with the crew where possible.’

Whilst the agents carry out their tasks, the crew will likely receive on board visits from the marine supervisor, port chaplain and any number of suppliers all making deliveries during their short window alongside. Crew will also be liaising with the port operators to allow cargo operations to proceed, passengers to disembark, taking receipt of deliveries, arranging for parts to be landed for repairs, receiving fresh water supplies, landing sludge and grey water, or having specialised technicians board to carry out any works that they are unable to complete themselves.

Most ships have a notice board at the head of their gangway, stating when the ship is due to sail, what time shore-leave ends, and the next port – this is to inform any visiting staff when they need to be off the vessel, but also to ensure that any crew heading off for a couple of hours shore leave are aware of when they need to be back on board.

‘Due to the nature of the container vessel trade, there is very little down-time or lay-bys, and crews have to fit in their shore leave around their on-board watches,’ adds Capt. Parker. ‘This is why a regular and rapid means of getting from ship to any shore attractions is imperative. It should be remembered that most crew members are foregoing their rest time to come ashore, so it has to be worthwhile and with no wasted time.’

With all this going on, the port operators need to ensure everyone is safe and coordinate operations between the vessel and shore. Port Marine Assistants (PMAs) are present at every berthing and release. Radios are used between ship and shore; the pilot and PMA will remain in constant contact to coordinate berthing and release.

In the event that anything does go awry, some ports have police stationed within the port limits to assist as needed. Policing offers many challenges and policing a specialist environment such as a port has its own unique challenges which makes effective communication even more vital. Whether that is obtaining information about an ongoing emergency, or speaking to a victim of crime who may be distressed, frustrated or angry; the port police must adapt their communication style to be the most suitable given the circumstances they are faced with.

‘In my role as chief of police, I communicate every day with a variety of people, whether that is my team, port managers and staff, stakeholders and tenants, members of the public or the crew of vessels visiting the Port of Tilbury,’ explained Matt Bass, chief of police at the Port of Tilbury.

‘There are many other factors to consider in my specific area of responsibility, such as a language barrier when dealing with seafarers visiting from abroad who may not speak English, or trying to decipher jargon, I have worked at the Port of Tilbury now for 13 months, but I still learn new jargon and port specific words every single day.’

Once all the cargo or passengers have been accounted for, the crew and port operators work together to prepare the vessel for departure, whilst the agent will again visit the vessel to complete the sailing formalities.

Capt. Parker concludes that: ’As a port, our main function is to facilitate the movement of goods and vessels, but we should never forget the men and women who serve on these ships and endure the isolation, hazards and perils of the deep blue sea.’

To read more about the different priorities and communications challenges faced by all those involved in a ship visit read the ‘Day in the Life’ stories featured across the Ship to Port Campaign week.