Port of Rotterdam: customs processes still digitized

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The trade of refrigerated products via refrigerated containers is experiencing spectacular growth in the Port of Rotterdam. Rotterdam Port Authority, Customs, Fresh Produce Center and Portbase have joined forces to facilitate this growing market and ensure customs clearance is faster, more efficient and more secure. Reefer containers represent over 15% of the total number of containers shipped through the Port of Rotterdam. This proportion is expected to increase further in the years to come. The first results of the partnership are promising.

The Rotterdam Port Authority is continuously working with supply chain partners to explore opportunities to further optimize the efficiency and safety of port and chain processes. A pilot project has recently been launched to make customs processes safer and more efficient. “This is a fairly complex process that involves more than you might expect at the outset,” began Hanna Stelzel, sales manager for logistics and supply chain at the Port of Rotterdam. Commonly known as customs clearance, in practice this involves more than the activities carried out by customs. It is the combined action of customs, shipping agents, terminals, shipping companies and other chain partners involved. With lots of two-way communication.

“Communications between all parties involved largely determine the efficiency of the entire customs clearance process,” added Anne Saris, Commercial Director Agribusiness and Distribution of the Port Authority of Rotterdam. “Cooperation is crucial. The faster and more efficient the communications, the more efficient the customs clearance.

One of the main reasons for reviewing processes with chain partners has been the increase in the number of refrigerated containers. As the number of containers in the port increases, so does the number of inspections.

These inspections are carried out on the basis of analyzes and risk profiles, with country of origin and history (or lack thereof) helping to determine whether or not a container should be inspected. Reefers often come from high risk areas, which means they are also more frequently selected for inspection. As further growth is expected, it is crucial that the port is optimally prepared to facilitate this increased flow of refrigerated cargo. Efficient customs processes are an essential link in the chain. “Plus, these help attract additional flows,” added Stelzel.

New reefer shipping containers pile up on the yard.

Customs inspect containers in three ways, the most common being by scanning. All major container terminals of Maasvlakte in Rotterdam have a high-tech customs scanner on site and images of the contents of the containers are scanned remotely by customs 24/7. This means that containers do not have to leave the terminal, or be opened unnecessarily, and in 95% of cases they can be released within 36 hours of unloading. A second method is physical inspection, which is carried out at the State Inspection Terminal (SIT) in Maasvlakte. The third option is to use sniffer dogs to check the affected containers at the terminals. “There are also times when additional checks are required after viewing the scanned images. It’s the physical inspection at SIT, ”added Loekie Lepelaar, Customs Advisor and Client Manager at the Port of Rotterdam Customs.

“We are constantly reviewing processes and analyzing bottlenecks with our chain partners,” continued Saris. A project team, involving the port authority and customs as well as members of the Fresh Produce Center and the Portbase, has recently been put in place to minimize waiting times and delays during customs inspections. The project team analyzed customs processes and concluded that there was still a lot to be done, especially with regard to physical checks and inspections with sniffer dogs. “The improvements needed lie not so much in the inspections themselves but in the processes around them, such as the planning of transport from the terminal to the SIT and back and the communications between the parties involved,” explained Stelzel.

Further analysis has also shown that a large portion of bottlenecks are created by processes that still require one or more manual actions. Stelzel said: “If Customs selects a container for physical screening, the shipping agent and terminal are notified. The shipping agent then contracts a logistics service provider to transport the container to the state inspection terminal. This transport movement will then be scheduled for the next day. With manual processes, such as entering emails or making phone contact between the chain partners involved, it may happen that a container scanned on a Thursday can only arrive at SIT on Monday or even Tuesday, in particular. part because not all links in the chain are working 24/7. ‘ “It’s definitely not something we want, especially for reefer containers, where shelf life is key,” said Saris.

That’s why the partners launched a pilot project this spring to digitize many manual processes. All customs clearance checks are already announced digitally through the Port Community System inspection portal. “Making all of these announcements digitally within the shipping company – with the approval of shipping agents – allows us to expedite transportation planning. The time savings can then be considerable, especially if there is a weekend involved, ”said Dalibor Stojakovic, Product Owner at Portbase. “The LSP can start planning before receiving the mission from the shipping agent, although the actual transport movements of course do not take place until after the mission is received. “

“Continued digitization allows us to reduce turnaround times and minimize wait times,” added Daco Sol. The manager of the Logistics, Supervision and Supply Chain program at Fresh Produce Center is also aware of the consequences of untimely delays. “There is a huge risk of quality loss for fresh produce. Or you may have to find other sales channels and the financial losses can reach tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, no one wants that. Minimizing wait and turnaround times was therefore one of our main reasons for participating. Our members import fresh produce and aim for the shortest possible turnaround time in the chain. ‘

It is still not clear how many gains will be made. “We are still in the start-up phase and it is too early to say more about this. But that digitalization makes processes more efficient is certainly already clear, ”said Stelzel. She also thinks it helps that all parties involved see the potential of this and are also ready to make improvements.

Sol added: “The biggest gain so far is having a lot more insight as it has helped us understand where the delays come from and that communications and manual activities are the bottlenecks. The attention that is being paid to this subject at the moment is a first step in the right direction. But we are not there yet. As far as we are concerned, the ultimate goal will only be achieved if all the processes that can logically be organized and optimized are also actually organized and optimized It sounds ambitious perhaps, but I am convinced that it is achievable as long as we are all on the same page.

Stelzel concluded: “The first results are promising. We can keep delays to a minimum, not only for reefer containers but also for other containers. This ensures that the owners of the goods do not have to face unnecessary costs. Other chain partners have also expressed interest and we are planning to take quick action there as well. Ultimately, the goal is to work together to improve the efficiency of the port.
Source: Port of Rotterdam



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