October, 2011 – When ships meet ports

There is a phrase famous in maritime circles which refers to “the customs of the port” and which suggests that pretty well everything that goes on in one port will be different to that which took place in the previous port, and that which will go on in the next. The procedures, the documents demanded, the “ritual” visits of all the officials which need to visit the ship and all the inspections of paperwork will be slightly different, but all will be accorded great importance. The Master of the visiting ship would be unwise to suggest that the “customs of the port” are due an overhaul! Can the ship/port interface be made more efficient? This question forms the basis of the next Nautical Institute Command Seminar, to be held in Bristol on 4-5 November, organised by the London and Bristol branches of the professional mariners’ organisation. BIMCO would undoubtedly answer the question very much in the affirmative, because greater efficiency in this area has for many years been part of the agenda for better facilitation in trade, with the smooth passage of a ship through a port forming an important element. And efficiency in this area is even more important if the logistics chain is to be kept taut and there is no wasted time in an area where the ship is not actually earning her keep speeding goods across the seas, but tied up at a terminal. There is, perhaps, much room for improvement in the amount of pre-planning that could be undertaken using the facility of modern communications, with too many ports in too many countries still employing the procedures which have been in place practically since the days of sail! Is it still necessary for so many people to visit the ship on arrival, when clearance in most cases could be given against an electronic interchange of all the documents that are necessary?