EU Green Port Project Explores New Fuels, Digitization, and Automation

An international alliance of 45 companies, research institutes, and port authorities, headed by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, has received EU funding for a new project focusing on the greening of port operations. The consortium will be using this grant to execute 10 pilot projects and demonstration projects that focus on sustainable and smart logistics in port operations.

The European Commission is providing nearly $30 million in research grants for the efforts to look at a broad range of initiatives within the green port project. The consortium’s broad, international research program primarily focuses on aspects in the use of new fuels and energy carriers that have not yet been tested in practice. This includes production, transport, storage, distribution (fuels), and charging (electric power).

In announcing the new project, the Port of Rotterdam said that several renewable fuels and energy carriers are currently being developed further, including green hydrogen, large electric batteries, ammonia, and bio-LNG. Each of these has its advantages and challenges, with one option seeming more suited to shipping, another to applications within the port, or transport to inland destinations. Some links in the chain from production to consumption have already been tested while others have not. 

Examples include the operation of an electric battery-powered locomotive that uses power from an overhead line for both motive power and for recharging its battery. The concept is that this would allow the locomotive to work in areas that lack an overhead line such as marshaling yards. Other examples include bunkering ammonia as a transport fuel, or electrical power from shore for ships moored offshore to a mooring buoy. 

The partners will also design and implement several digitalization and automation solutions in the context of the energy transition. In addition, they will be exploring how best to encourage companies to raise the sustainability of their logistics processes. 

One of the results from the consortium will involve the development of a master plan that sets out how transport in, to, and from the ports can be made carbon-free by 2050. They will also explore what needs to be done before 2030 and 2040 to achieve the carbon-free goal. The results of the various pilot projects and studies will be shared with other European ports, knowledge institutes, and companies.

The project comes out of a collaboration between the port authorities of Rotterdam, DeltaPort (Germany), HAROPA PORT (France) and Sines (Portugal), in partnership with 10 research institutes and over 30 companies in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden. The research project has been given the acronym MAGPIE: sMArt Green Ports as Integrated Efficient multimodal hubs. 

The research project will run for five years. The initial funding is being with within the Horizon 2020 green deal program.


To Counter China, Philippines Plans Bigger Base in Spratly Islands

The government of the Philippines is planning to turn an island in the Spratly archipelago into a new logistics and resupply base, giving it a new way to support its presence and law enforcement operations in the disputed area. China claims the majority of the South China Sea as its own, and its maritime militia of state-backed fishing vessels has been increasingly active in Philippine-claimed waters. 

General Cirilito Sobejana, the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, announced earlier this week that the government was planning a “logistics hub” at Pag-asa Island (also known as Thitu Island). “If we transform it into a logistics hub, our boats will [go] further and our sovereignty patrol in West Philippine Sea will continue,” he said at a press conference. “We are patrolling where our fishermen are going as well as where the Chinese ships are staying to make sure that our countrymen will not be threatened or intimidated.” 

Thitu is a lightly-garrisoned island with a barracks and an unpaved air strip, and it has been occupied by the Philippines since then 1970s. Manila has been gradually investing in improvements, including a small harbor and beaching ramp for construction work. 

According to Asia Times, Thitu was the very first occupied land feature in the region, and it presaged a wave of competing base construction projects by rival claimants over the ensuing decades – up to and including China’s massive installations at Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef.

Chinese militia presence on the rise

The Philippine Coast Guard and fisheries vessels have been holding regular drills in the Spratly Islands, and videos posted by the PCG show that its patrol boat crews have begun challenging Chinese fishing vessel activity within the Philippine EEZ. Despite dozens of diplomatic requests and the stepped-up enforcement activity, the number of Chinese maritime militia fishing vessels in Philippine waters has risen from 200 in March to 300 in May, according to Philippine Foreign Minister Teddy Locsin. 

China has demanded a halt to the Philippines’ military drills, but Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana has made clear that Manila does not plan to stop. “While we acknowledge that China’s military capability is more advanced than ours, this does not deter us from defending our national interest, and our dignity as a people, with all that we have,” Lorenzana said over the weekend. 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was more conciliatory in a televised address released earlier this month. “China remains to be our benefactor and . . . just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say we have to be rude and disrespectful,” Duterte said. “As a matter of fact we have many things to thank China for.”

China is the second-largest foreign investor in the Philippines, and it has provided the Philippine government with donated shipments of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, which are key resources for the nation’s efforts to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. 



US Senate Approves Act Permitting Large Ships to Cruise to Alaska

In a voice vote, the U.S. Senate this afternoon approved the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act that would permit large cruise ships to operate cruises to Alaska this summer. The act provides a waiver of the U.S. cabotage laws. The measure goes to the U.S. House for approval before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The Act was a simple and direct measure that states that a roundtrip voyage transporting passengers between a port or place in the State of Alaska and a port or place in the State of Washington is deemed a foreign voyage for purposes of the law of the United States. The act remains in effect till February 2022.

The purpose of the effort was to circumvent the Canadian decision to close its ports to large cruise ships until 2022. Under the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act, all foreign flag passenger ships are required to stop at a foreign port when transporting American citizens between two U.S. ports. The large cruise ships traditionally have sailed either from the port of Vancouver, Canada, or Seattle, Washington on their summer cruise programs to Alaska. The closure of the Canadian ports and Canada’s refusal of even technical calls, where a ship stops in the port but does not disembark passengers, was effectively blocking the cruise lines from Alaska this year.

Alaskans have been appealing for relief because of the strong impact from the loss of its summer tourism. Cruises to Alaska had been one of the most popular summer programs drawing well over one million passengers each year. Even the small cruise lines, which had not been blocked and are now beginning their summer programs to Alaska, announced that they would support a temporary waiver because of the importance of tourism to the Alaskan economy.

“This has been a struggle to get everyone pulling together, but I think we are at a place where there is a glimmer of hope for Alaska’s tourism industry,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski who along with Senator Dan Sullivan had co-sponsored the Senate bill.  Previous efforts to get the act passed had been stalled by efforts to expand its content to incorporate other safety requirements on the cruise ships.

Even with the passage of the act today by the Senate, it is far from certain that the cruise lines will be able to offer summer Alaska cruises. Most of the cruise ships are not in position for the market and the cruise lines are still struggling to come to terms with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s extensive framework for resuming even limited cruise operations from U.S. ports. 

The major cruise lines have been withdrawing plans for cruises during July citing the steps required by the CDC along with the need to restaff and restart their ships. Earlier in the week, Carnival Cruise Line had however said that while it canceling most July sailings that it was still working to find a solution that would permit ships to sail to Alaska this summer. 

Late this afternoon Senator Sullivan Tweeted, “This is an important and encouraging step, but we aren’t done yet. The Dean of the House, Representative Don Young, will next be working with his colleagues to quickly pass the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act in the House.”