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Geospatial Ports Database: Precisely Pinpoint Vessels in Vast Ports

More Data Storytelling

Ports and shipping are becoming increasingly complicated to track. But better vessel location data can be the key to greater efficiencies for businesses involved in maritime trade.

The growing challenge of global logistics 

Around 65 years after its introduction, the humble shipping container is still quite young, yet its success has transformed global logistics. The ‘containerisation’ of international trade led to an ever greater number of ships, larger vessels, bigger ports and vastly more complicated operations within those facilities.

There are now some 5,400 container ships in circulation according to Seasearcher, carrying tens of millions of containers. For businesses connected to maritime trade, it has become increasingly challenging and crucial to track shipping operations accurately.

The old adage ‘time is money’ has never been more apt. Accurate vessel location data leads ultimately to fewer delays, better efficiency and lower costs. This growing complexity of modern shipping operations is driving a need for ever-more precise and accurate data, which is why we decided to develop a more advanced geospatial database.

“Ports are very busy places with thousands of activities happening at once. But if these activities don’t go to plan, delays are caused. Our customers described how frustrating and costly it can be when cargo is not delivered at the expected time. If they had more specific information about vessel location and activity within ports near real time, they might be able to amend their plans more accurately if they knew how long the delay might be.”

- Richard Myers, Geospatial Manager, Lloyd’s List Intelligence 

As ports get bigger, location must be more precise

More than ever before, people and businesses are demanding access to goods and materials from right around the world. Thanks to this appetite for commodities, there is a greater volume of global trade, the size and number of ships are increasing and, in turn, ports are busier, bigger and more complex.

In 1980, the international fleet of container ships could carry 11 million deadweight tonnes of cargo (dwt) in total; by 2021, that figure had increased to 282 million dwt. This trend is likely to continue into the future. A study in the journal Earth’s Future estimated that the world’s seaports will have to grow by 3,689 square kilometres (1,424 square miles) by 2050, to cope with rising demand.

The number, size and complexity of ports is increasing rapidly because of ‘containerisation’, or the prevalence of container shipping. More than 60% by value of the world’s general cargo trade is now carried in containers. Since the mid-1950s, when containerisation began, there has been an exponential increase in the number and average size of container ships.

After a slight lull, the order book for new vessels is again booming, with increasing demand for containers as the world continues to deal with significant shortages. Meanwhile, economies of scale have driven the rise of ‘megaships’ in the last few years, with around 90 vessels in operation at the end of 2021 which are capable of carrying 20,000 or more ‘TEU’ (20-foot equivalent unit) containers.

Ports have responded by expanding, so that they can accommodate bigger vessels and a greater volume of trade. They’ve also become more complicated places, often encompassing several sub-ports, sometimes with hundreds of berths and anchorages. And despite this explosive rate of growth, the global management consultant, McKinsey, predicts that, as yet, we are nowhere near the peak in containerised transport.

With this size and complexity in mind, single ‘map pin’ locations are no longer good enough to locate ships in ports that commonly cover more than 100 square kilometres and may be over 1,000 square kilometres in area. There is a pressing need for more precise geolocation detail that shows whether a vessel is waiting at anchor, entering a terminal, sitting in a berth or heading back to sea.

In an increasingly competitive environment, businesses are under pressure to economise on fuel, cut carbon emissions, save time and avoid assets standing still. It’s easier to spot the opportunities and risks that potentially affect these efficiencies with a source of granular data on a vessel’s port activities.

Estimated Times of Arrival, or ETAs, are an indispensable part of modern logistics. Inaccurate or unpredictable ETAs can complicate a vessel’s onward journey and cost an enormous amount of money. Detailed geospatial port data, that enables you to pinpoint a ship and its activities, can be key to more accurate ETAs. 

We’ve found a way to build a more detailed picture 

With the growing size and complexity of ports, we knew that it was going to be a challenge to provide the kind of granular data that companies need to streamline and optimise their operations. So how exactly did we at Lloyd’s List Intelligence go about creating a database this detailed?

“We completely overhauled our existing database from a relatively flat structure to a more hierarchical one. One of the biggest challenges was integrating data from multiple sources. Using our maritime expertise and also our new database we were able to automate many of these processes.”

- Richard Myers, Geospatial Manager, Lloyd’s List Intelligence

It was important to make sure that this detailed picture was based on data and labels that conformed to all the relevant industry standards. For this, we turned to a set of standards developed and maintained by bodies such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Taskforce Port Call Optimization (ITPCO). It was important to make sure our data conformed to all the relevant industry standards.

We then broke down entire ports into more specific components, so that a more detailed picture of each vessel’s location could be provided. Previously, a ship’s Seafarer Identity Document, or SID, could be used to determine its rough location at terminal or at berth. Now, our more detailed model drills into the information, specifying location by sub-port, ship-to-ship (STS) transfer area, terminal, berth or anchorage.

We used our trusted sources, other specific port information sources and our own verified vessel movements data to determine where in a port key activities and operations take place. The result is a far more detailed overview of thousands of ports, so that customers can tell much more precisely what’s happening with a ship and its cargo at any given time.

The brand new database is spatially enabled and allows us to clean and analyse the data in a way that wasn’t previously possible. It also has an expanded volume with many new ports, terminals and berths included.

Geospatial ports

Our Geospatial Ports Database

What is it?

This resource is the most structured and granular port database available. It uses a clear hierarchy of port locations and more intricate ‘polygons’ to provide complete coverage and unparalleled accuracy. It includes:

  • A new hierarchical database following relevant industry standards (UN/LOCODE, ISO, ITPCO).
  • A modern spatially enabled database engine (PostgreSQL on AWS), providing spatial automation and KPIs for increased completeness.
  • A significant expansion in our database records: includes 12,262 ports (up 135% from 2021), 14,321 terminals (up 105% from 2021) and 38,094 berths (up 104% from 2021).

Why is it important?

“This will provide much greater coverage and greater accuracy when publishing vessel locations in port, which can be aggregated at different levels. By aligning with industry standards, the system is easily integrated into existing databases and platforms. Our customers will be able to have a more detailed picture of what is happening at any given time with vessels at anchor or in berths. In the event of delays or other activities happening that were not originally planned, all the businesses and individuals that depend on knowing when this vessel will continue its voyage will be better served with greater insight.”

- Richard Myers, Geospatial Manager, Lloyd’s List Intelligence

The problem with previous databases was that they didn’t provide enough granularity. As a result, the systems they fed into tended to suffer inaccuracies.

In contrast, our Geospatial Ports database database has market-leading coverage and accuracy. Its comprehensive hierarchy of port polygons gives businesses the data they need to make systems that increase efficiency, reduce costs, boost functionality and improve their ability to acquire and retain customers.

For those working in commodities and shipping, it promises quicker turnaround times for vessels, which in turn eases supply chain management headaches and lowers costs.

For shipping agencies, it offers an unparalleled source of business intelligence information. The accurate data on vessel arrivals provides an opportunity to allow clients to visualise the movements of their goods and enjoy an enlightening customer experience.

The information empowers logistics companies that want their customers to be able to track container locations in real-time or ship owners who need to chart vessel performance accurately, so they can implement improvements.

Advantages of using our Geospatial Ports Database 

The database could enable businesses to reduce costs, drive efficiency and develop exciting new products that help attract new customers.

It takes the increasingly cloudy and complex world of port structures and makes it much clearer. In addition, it completes a picture that was previously complicated and partial, by covering global ports, sub-ports, terminals, berths and STS areas in unparalleled detail. And it provides a robust and transparent hierarchy, so that aggregate shipping, with multiple stops at ports and berths, can be completed with greater accuracy.

The database gives our customers the tools to make future plans based on solid insights, particularly when it is combined with other sources to track port congestion, anchorage wait times or estimated times to get to terminal and berth.

Information is power. An accurate geospatial database can be the key to better supply chain management, new services and substantial growth.

Key takeaways

  • The containerisation of international trade has led to an ever-greater number of ships, larger vessels, bigger ports and vastly more complicated operations within those facilities.
  • Single ‘map pin’ locations are no longer good enough to locate ships in ports that commonly cover more than 100 square kilometres and may be over 1,000 square kilometres in area.
  • The Lloyd’s List Intelligence Geospatial Ports Database is the most structured and granular port database. It uses a clear hierarchy of port locations with more intricate ‘polygons’ to provide complete coverage and unparalleled accuracy.
  • This data helps companies increase their efficiency, reduce costs, boost functionality and acquire more customers.