Review of the 2015 Port of the Future National Conference: what are the prospects for French ports?
Interview: Philippe JOSCHT, Head of the Water, Sea and Rivers Department (DTecEMF) at Cerema, the Centre for Research and Expertise on Risks, Environment, Mobility and Development.
The role of the Water, Sea and Rivers Department, which has replaced the former “Cetmef”, is to provide expertise on all water-related issues. Its work covers studies and expert analysis, research, knowledge capitalisation and transfer in the field of water. Since 2011 it has organised the Port of the Future National Conference, with which AIVP has been involved on several occasions.
AIVP: You claim that the shipping industry is evolving as maritime routes change, with a shift towards the African continent in particular, and that the on-going race towards ever bigger ships could potentially raise security issues in the future. What changes do French ports need to make in order to keep up with these developments?
Philippe JOSCHT: First and foremost, the primary goal of ports should be to consolidate their hinterlands. That means organising logistics and improving services and access to French ports. There is still more work to do in these areas, limiting transloading and minimising the costs of transshipment to river transport, for example. A parliamentary report found that it would cost around 2.6 billion euros to bring access to French ports up to standard. That’s a significant sum, but not overly excessive in the medium term. Transport services are also needed. Take La Rochelle, for example. There, the port has taken on the role of “rail freight coordinator”, reserving train paths for between three and five years, and setting up a transport commission service for all its customers. And it works. Rail traffic through the port is rising substantially. It’s clear how much onshore logistics services can influence the way maritime traffic is organised.
AIVP: “Port of the Future” of course refers to the new technologies and computer systems that can help to make logistics more efficient. What conclusions did the conference reach on this subject?
Philippe JOSCHT: The port of the future is indeed connected, helping to make ports more logistically efficient and secure. Paperless information is becoming a major factor. The chain of production is managed by demand, and so by the chain of information. Efficient port transit needs to be prepared well in advance, from the point at which the goods leave their point of origin. But post-carriage information is also vital, right to the last kilometre. Port communities can handle up to 1 million messages. That volume of data cannot be processed manually. Another example is the SIF or River Information System being introduced along a stretch of the Seine. It provides data on water levels, types and volumes of cargo, lock congestion, and information on hazards. All of which allows journeys to be planned in an environmentally-friendly way. Finally, we need to continue developing open data, as with the “smart port” project in Rotterdam. French ports have not quite reached that stage yet, but they need to look at the issue, and consider system interoperability also.
AIVP: Today, the environment is a crucial issue that nobody can afford to ignore. How is this “constraint” being dealt with, and what practical measures are ports taking?
Philippe JOSCHT: Society is increasingly sensitive to environmental issues. That’s true for every field and every development project. Ports are no exception to the trend, particularly as coastal areas are often home to numerous protected zones and remarkable sites. Ports need to take those concerns on board as early as possible. Heritage preservation should not be treated as an anti-economic constraint. On the contrary, ports have an active role in planning and need strategic projects that include environmental development, in the same way as social and economic development. There are already a host of different practical measures being taken: increased use of LED lighting, runoff water treatment, electrification of cranes, environmental monitoring, actions to promote the circular economy and industrial ecology, emissions-reduction technologies with LNG, gas scrubbers, cold-ironing, and so on.
AIVP: Innovation, automation, megaships… these developments can also be a source of uncertainty. Will the “Port of the Future” be sustainable?
Philippe JOSCHT: The port of the future needs to be at the cutting edge of innovations, because they are necessary. Ports are facing a major challenge: their economic model is threatened by falling revenues from the transport of petroleum products, and needs to evolve. The sustainable Port of the Future also needs to take into account the effects of climate change. In reality, we are only just starting to understand climate change-related phenomena. For port installations, as for all coastal defences, there is still much work to be done in terms of analysis, simulation and identifying preventive measures. The race towards ever larger ships also raises the issue of how to adapt port infrastructures. Where will it end? It’s possible that security issues will eventually lead to standardised ship sizes. Finally, although security requirements are pushing towards greater isolation, the port is also an urban space with city port links that need to be handled carefully.
AIVP: Is Cerema looking to join forces with local communities, in particular port cities? And if so, on what issues?
Philippe JOSCHT: Cerema is already a long-standing partner of local communities, whether it’s in terms of providing expertise or sharing and capitalising on knowledge and experience. In its strategic project, from 2016 onwards, it plans to devote some of its resources to developing new ways of working together with local communities, with a specific focus on innovation and partnership initiatives on the issues that are most important to them. We may look for partners for initiatives like the GEMAPI programme for managing aquatic environments and flood prevention, or to experiment with new kinds of mobility like car-sharing. That approach might also be extended to areas such as the energy transition, heritage management or development.
We will be actively seeking partners for projects funded jointly by Cerema and local communities, to help local stakeholders identify solutions, and then to learn lessons so we can share innovations and knowledge nationally. There is nothing to stop port cities from putting themselves forward – quite the opposite, in fact.