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Floating terminals could unlock shortsea shipping potential

Informa Markets Peter Milich at CMA Shipping 2023
Mobile harbours could unlock advantages for shortsea shipping over rail and road, according to a student's prize-winning paper.

Speaking at CMA Shipping 2023, Peter Milich of SUNY Maritime College presented his research into the potential benefits of floating mobile harbours for container shipping - assets which currently exist only in concept.

Milich said mobile harbours hold potential for the shortsea shipping market in particular, as the non-ocean-going nature of the trades put ships in direct competition with rail and road freight. Unlocking short sea shipping means accessing its greater economies of scale, higher fuel efficiency and lower environmental impact, said Milich.

“Additionally… utilizing shipping requires far less dedicated land use and investment in infrastructure, freeing up public funds to be put towards other projects,” he added.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News, Milich said his research included a look at further potential social benefits such as reduced road wear through the reduction of trucking traffic – a major contributor to degradation of roads and highways.

Despite the advantages of short sea shipping, trucking is treated as the default shipping method globally, argued Milich, and one of the reasons for that is the high frequency services road trucking can offer compared to sea and rail.

“If you have larger vehicles sailing with more cargo, they can only do so so often, whereas trucks can be constantly coming in and out to ports providing continuous service. This has been identified through multiple studies as a major impediment to the expansion of short sea shipping,” said Milich.

Mobile harbours—offshore mobile platforms or dedicated ships with gantry cranes and box storage areas—could offer a solution to some of the issues facing short sea shipping by increasing the flexibility of the transport mode.

Floating harbours could reduce the number of movements necessary to get a container from origin to destination, and could even be placed far from shore to reduce the need for pilotage services for inland navigation and mooring.

“My proposal is to introduce mobile harbours into all into the major ports of any given region to act as network hubs for shipping to come in from outside the region, then allow for the mobile harbours to lighter that cargo from the large ocean going vessels to smaller feeder ships and distribute it out across the region at a higher frequency and a lower overall price,” said Milich.

While container shipping is likely the most cost-effective proposition for such mobile harbours, platforms to provide lightering services could also be developed for bulk, liquid bulk, car carriers and other cargoes could be developed.

“This whole idea could be expanded all across the short sea shipping industry, not just within containers,” said Milich.

Milich’s paper earned third prize in the Connecticut Maritime Association Education Foundation Business of Shipping 2023, winning him $1,000 in prize money.