Port of Antwerp-Bruges embraces transformation to sail into success

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges, a vital hub for global trade and maritime logistics is not only one of the largest and busiest in the world but is also at the forefront of technological advancement and sustainability efforts. To learn about how the Port of Antwerp-Bruges is harnessing the power of technology to transform port operations, we reach out to Luc Arnouts, Vice President – International Relations and Networks, Port of Antwerp-Bruges. In this exclusive interaction, Mr Arnouts discusses the development of a cutting edge digital twin for the port, providing real-time data from cameras, sensors, and drones, and how this technology is revolutionizing operational insights. He also shares the ambitious vision of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges to become a multi-fuel port, the recent trials conducted to increase the draught of the Western Scheldt to 16 meters, and much more.

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges is making significant strides in utilizing autonomous drones for various functions within the port area. Could you elaborate on the key functions these drones perform and the advantages they bring to the port’s operations?

We have launched the D-Hive drone-in-a-box: a network of 6 autonomous drones that will execute 18 BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) flights remotely controlled from a Command and Control Centre in the heart of the port.

This is the first implementation worldwide of BVLOS flights on this scale in a complex industrial environment. Unlike VLOS (Visual Line Of Sight) flights, these will take place out of the pilot’s sight. Port of Antwerp-Bruges is working with partners DroneMatrix, SkeyDrone, and Proximus for the D-Hive network. In March of this year, the Port received the operational permit that was built around a new BVLOS framework (known as pre-Uspace airspace), built by Skeydrone and approved by the BCAA (Belgian Civil Aviation Authority) and EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency), as an appropriate and safe framework for BVLOS drone flights.

The Antwerp platform (the first phase of our drones project; Zeebrugge will follow) of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, is more than 120km², an area that will now be covered by the D-Hive network. They will provide extra pairs of eyes to help coordinate smooth, safe, and sustainable operations in this complex environment. The drones will offer a unique perspective from the air and enable the port authorities to manage, inspect, and supervise a large area, quickly and effectively. The port will use the drones for a range of functions including berth management, monitoring, infrastructure inspections, oil spill and floating waste detection, and to support security partners during incidents.

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges has recently reported the development of a digital twin for the port, based on data from cameras, sensors, and drones. How does this digital twin enhance the port’s operations, and what real-time insights does it provide?

The vast Antwerp-Bruges port area covers more than 143 sq km. More than 300,000 shipping movements take place in the port every year. To continuously monitor the entire area, as well as all shipping movements, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges has expanded and digitized its camera and radar infrastructure.

The 460 cameras and 22 radars are directly connected to the Antwerp Coordination Centre and provide operational services such as Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) and the Harbour Master’s Office with a comprehensive view of the port. The smart cameras are equipped with specially designed artificial intelligence that allows them to recognize ships. In combination with detailed radar data, this real-time data will further increase situational awareness in the future to evolve toward predictive and steering behaviour.

The port now has one of the most advanced and high-performance systems of any port in the world. Thanks to the digitization of the entire network, the connection with APICA (Advanced Port Information and Control Assistant), the port’s digital twin, is made possible. This digital copy of the entire port area provides a scan every second to create a real-time picture of what is happening at the port based on thousands of pieces of data from a network of cameras, sensors, and drones: which ships are in which locks and docks? Are all the life preservers hanging in their closets? How much energy are our wind turbines producing?

The Advanced Port Information & Control Assistant (APICA) is the brain of the application. A 3D interface with real-time information is the face of the application.

As per reports, The Port of Antwerp-Bruges aims to become a multi-fuel port, allowing vessels to bunker alternative fuels like methanol, hydrogen, and electricity. Can you provide a little more insight on this vision, an update on the progress toward achieving this goal, and the impact it’s expected to have on the maritime industry?

The port of Antwerp-Bruges, the fifth largest bunkering port in the world, has integrated LNG into its bunkering market in the past few years. Ships bunker more than six million tonnes of conventional fuels at the port every year, such as low-sulphur oil or gas oil. By 2025, it aims to become a fully-fledged multi-fuel port, in which seagoing and inland vessels will be able to bunker, not only conventional fuels but also low[1]carbon alternatives such as methanol, ammonia, hydrogen, or electricity.

With this in mind, the Port Authority is developing a clear framework for shipping companies, bunkering companies, industry, and terminals which will facilitate bunkering operations and investment decisions. A few months ago, the first methanol bunkering operation took place at SEA-Tank’s terminal.

We are also committed to making our fleet greener by using alternative fuels. The Port of Antwerp-Bruges has a fleet of tugs, dredgers, and enforcement vessels. We are investing heavily in the integration of alternative fuels into this fleet and connecting every ship to shore power where possible.

By 2024 a full electric tug with 70 tuns of pulling power will be available. As we speak the Methatug and Hydrotug, the world’s first tugs powered by hydrogen and methanol respectively, will also make their debut soon. These projects are part of a comprehensive greening program for the fleet and underline the ambition to be a climate[1]neutral port by 2050

This is an abridge version of the interview published in the November edition of the Logistics Insider Magazine. To read the full interview, click here.

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