[INFOGRAPHIC] The impact of rain on the loading and unloading of goods in Brazilian ports

  • 22/03/2019
  • 9 minutes

Rain and bad weather bring direct consequences to several sectors of the economy. And one of those that suffers the most is precisely the maritime transport sector. Climatic changes force companies to organize so as to not lose resources and to keep their deadlines intact as much as possible. But do you know what is the impact of rain on the loading and unloading of goods?

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The big question is that there is cargo that might be or might not be impacted by the rain, whether because of the material from which they are made or because of the required mode of transport. That’s why any shipment has a clause in the charter party that informs about any existing climatic restrictions.

Besides, commercial clauses are included to benefit either the shipowner or the charterer; most of the time, these contractual modifications try to come to a middle ground in which no one is at a loss due to the deduction of the hours of rain from the charter calculation. In times like those, it’s important to seek ways of improving negotiation on your sea freight shipping.

Still ship, lost money

Unfortunately, some products really can’t be transported under rain, which brings about a deep impact in logistics and in business generation. Some Brazilian ports register up to 110 days of rain per year, which means that these places might have their activities suspended for up to one third of the year. That’s a lot!

When a ship sits still at a port without being able to operate due to the rain, the whole logistical chain suffers the consequences. “Unionized dockers, for example, can’t work, and since their remuneration is tied to how many tonnes of cargo they move in each period, they aren’t paid”, affirms Philip Leslie, shipping manager of Santos and São Sebastião (from Wilson Sons).

He goes on to explain that there is also the rest of the chain. “Without products, it’s impossible to make business, and without business, there is no profitability. That is, the still ship affects the whole wheel that makes the gear turn”, he points out.

But those aren’t the only losses brought on by the rain. Besides the risk of losing products that are more susceptible to bad weather, there are also fines for delays in delivery, especially in cases when it wasn’t possible to foresee the presence of rain.

Products that might or might not be handled under rain

As we’ve mentioned, there are products which are more or less sensitive to water. This information is generally on the packages and on the contracts between the companies, as we’ve seen up until now. But what are those products?

In relation to resistance to water, the greatest champions are roll on/roll off cargo, shipments of salt and sulfur in bulk, cargo that goes through the duct system, very common in the oil and gas industries. Live animal cargo is also in this category, as are ships which carry orange juice and some steelworks products.

However, there are products that are not friends with the water and, therefore, require care in order to be transported. And, in some cases, depending on the intensity of the rain, it’s necessary to wait for the weather to clear up. Fertilizers, coated celluloses, sodium carbonate, newspaper coils, and potassium chloride might be handled under a drizzle, as long as that’s authorized by the manufacturer and that everyone is aware of the risk involved.

If everybody consents, a document called a “rain letter” is produced, which basically exempts the commander of the ship from any responsibility in case of cargo loss or if it suffers the effects of precipitation. But there are also those products that can never, under any hypotheses, be handler under rain. That’s the case of sodium sulfate, sugar, corn, corn bran, wheat, potassium chloride, and soy, among others.

Even so, it’s important to highlight that carrying merchandise in containers allows some more complex operations to happen even under rain. This is possible especially due to the tightness of cargo chests, combined with the plastic protection existent in containers, known as an “open top”.

The aid of rain forecast

If rain is a challenge for maritime transport nowadays, imagine how it was before the arrival of technology. According to Philip Leslie, with sensors, radars, and even balloons carrying instruments and satellites, it’s currently possible to predict not only the place where rain will fall. “Today, we can know the exact time, the intensity, and the duration of the precipitation”, highlights the professional from Wilson Sons.

When it comes to maritime transport, operators already have the habit of consulting weather forecast systems as a work routine, even before requesting the process for a certain product. With that, it’s possible to accurately plan out schedules and to program the best logistics as possible, avoiding unnecessary losses.

Besides, ports work with a shift engagement system, which is nothing more than the time limit for defining the order of engagement for a load. Usually, this limit is set to two hours before the beginning of each shift.

Coverage at the Port of Santos

To try and minimize the effects of the rain on maritime transport, some ports invest in technology that allows ships to be loaded even under adverse conditions. The Port of Santos, for example, plans on investing around 20 million reais to install coverage, which will enable the terminals to keep operating under any climatic situation.

The developed projects are still being studied. The first option is installing a fixed structure above the mooring berths, with the possible addition of a retractable cover extending to the ships’ holds.

The project’s great challenge is the amplitude of the covers, since they need to reach a height of 70 meters, which equals a 21-story building. This represents a huge engineering challenge, because the structure must be resistant to strong winds and also to the rainfall drainage on the pier.

Studies will also take into consideration lateral rain, which is influenced by the wind. This phenomenon, however, will not be avoided by the covers, thus requiring other projects.

As you’ve seen, the impact of rain on the loading and unloading of goods is immense, but can be avoided with an efficient logistics work, partnered up with technology and with the ever more precise weather forecast. If you have any doubts or suggestions about the subject, join the conversation by leaving a comment below.