How a Stowage Coordinator Thinks.....
A stowage for a single port cannot be viewed in isolation. An individual SI is just a snapshot of a vessel at a particular point in time and does not give any context to the evolution of the stowage. Each stowage has an impact, either positive or negative, on future ports in the rotation and is, itself, a product of decisions take earlier in the port rotation. Increasing the CI in one port can result in a reduction of CI in a later port. It doesn't make sense to increase CI unless we can be confident that the cranes are actually available to us. It does not give any indication of the reasons and constraints in earlier ports that led to the way the vessel currently looks.
Commercial Requirements (Examples):
The need to evacuate MTY's to Asia, reefer cargo loadings, IMO, OOG and BBLK are all likely to have an effect on stowage. Keeping the reefer positions open, without restows can result in a deliberate reduction of CI in an earlier or later port. The same can apply to IMO and OOG. BBLK is pre-planned onto the vessel long before the actual load port CI is sent. The commercial need to reserve this space will inevitably reduce the coordinators options in the earlier ports.
Full units cannot be stowed on top of MTY units for safety reasons. When MTY's are loaded early in the port rotation, or in insufficient quantities to completely fill entire bays, they will need to be loaded into positions onboard where they may have to be restowed later on. From a commercial point of view it is better to load the MTY's and perform the restows than not evacuate the MTY's at all.
Contingencies are another reality of the operational environment in which we work. Europe in the winter sees port closures and delays, Asia during typhoon season has similar effects. Lack of MTY’s in a particular port or region can lead to inducement calls to ports not originally in the schedule. Ultimately, all of these scenarios (plus many others) lead to additional restows and non-optimal stowage solutions. None of this is down to the coordinator’s ability but is merely the result of unforeseen circumstances.
Stowage can basically be viewed at three different levels. Firstly, the service that the vessel is currently operating in. This is very high level view and only looks at the number of ports in the service, the number of cranes required in each port and the estimated movecount for each port. This is essentially a high level template for the service.
The second level the coordinator is considering covers the next few ports in the rotation from the one he is currently stowing. As well as the cranes and the movecounts, this is where there is more concrete information available about what is coming up in the next few ports. In reality, the coordinator is never just planning the port the vessel is about to arrive at, they are planning for all the future ports as well. At this level there will be more accurate forecast data regarding the overall cargo for the current region. There may also be more specific information such as high number of hazardous cargo out of some of the ports, pieces of breakbulk that are coming (which the vessel will need to be prepared for and reefer information.
Although the forecast information available is never 100% accurate, it can be used as a guide for how to stow the upcoming ports. A planner should always be careful not to take forecasts as completely accurate as this will potentially lead them to close off options that may be needed late
Finally, we get down to the level where we are looking at the current stowage. This is made up of the loadlist for the port and information from the ship regarding the stability condition. This is now where he is paying close attention to the specific cargo mix and the port requirements and restrictions.
Stowage is very detailed work at this point and where the planner is stowing individual containers onto the vessel and ensuring that all the current port and vessel restrictions and requirements are being met. These are a combination of commercial plus operational considerations and ensuring that the stowage sent meets all legal requirements. These include (but not limited to) the stowage of hazardous containers and the overall stability of the vessel. The above is just an example of some of the considerations the planner may be working with.
Additional Stowage Considerations
If we look at a much more detailed view of what a planner can potentially be looking at when doing the stowage it will contain some of the below items. Some services will have more considerations to be taken into account than others.
What makes one stowage more complicated than another usually has less to do with the size of the ship (and thus the high volume of containers) and more to do with the percentages of special cargo. One stow cannot be compared directly to another.
For example, an 18,000 TEU vessel on an Asia to Europe trade will have very high volumes but very low percentages of special cargo. A 2,000 TEU vessel running from West Africa to Europe will have a much higher percentage of special cargo plus there will be many more restrictions in the West Africa Ports than encountered in Europe or Asia. Therefore, the difficulty of any individual stowage is comprised of many different factors.
Despite the fact that one stow cannot be directly compared to another, there are some over-riding factors that have to be taken into account for every stowage, no matter how large or small the vessel is.
If the safety aspects cannot be satisfactorily met, then it doesn’t matter how good the stowage is, it will need to be adjusted.
Whenever a stowage is being created, the planner is keeping an eye on both operational and commercial concerns. If the vessel cannot be filled because of wasted space or unnecessary restows, then the vessel will not be profitable. If the port stay is longer than anticipated, the vessel will have to burn additional fuel to reach the next port on schedule. All of this costs money in an industry where the profit margins are very small to begin with.
On the Asia Europe trades, virtually no company makes money but it is a vital link for serving the much more profitable North/South trades. Therefore, while it’s difficult to make money between Asia and Europe, if the planner can keep the costs down then less money will be lost overall.
To aid the coordinator in remembering all the various restrictions and requirements, some companies employ the use of service checklists.