Brexit: A single smart solution for all Dutch ports

The Port Community System of Portbase – already widely used for many years in deep sea container transport – appears to be the solution for future ferry transport to and from the United Kingdom.

Closed barriers, long traffic jams, chaos on and around Dutch ferry terminals... This horror-scenario of the situation after Brexit appears in the media time and again. However, it does not have to be all doom and gloom, thanks to the Port Community System (PCS) by Portbase*. It has been running successfully in deep-sea container transport for years and seems to be the solution for future transport by ferry to and from the United Kingdom. However, all links in the logistics chain must participate in order for it to be successful. Portbase’s call is therefore: ‘Get ready for Brexit and get connected!’

Marty van Pelt (on the right in the picture), Business Relations & Communications Manager and responsible for Portbase’s Get Ready for Brexit campaign, starts by saying that “There is still a possibility that Brexit doesn’t go ahead at all – but it’s remote. And whether or not there is a deal when the British leave, the UK will soon share an external border with the EU. And at that border, every Dutch importer and exporter eventually has to deal with customs formalities. Goods for which no import or export declaration and no electronic pre-notification have been submitted to Customs via Portbase, simply no longer enter or leave the Netherlands. In concrete terms, this means that a lorry belonging to a carrier who does not have his affairs in order cannot enter or leave the grounds of the ferry company. It must either turn around or remain at the terminal until everything is arranged properly. Superfluous to say that the on-site process can be severely disrupted as a result. To avoid chaos of this kind as much as possible, we have adjusted our Port Community System and prepared it for Brexit.”

Common practice
To put it simply, the PCS is a digital infrastructure that assists all parties involved in the transport of goods via the Dutch ports (and the supervision thereof) to exchange information and collaborate safely and efficiently. Examples include freight forwarders, agents, shipping companies, shipbrokers, road and rail carriers, importers and exporters and inspection services such as Customs and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. PCS revolves around jointly developed services, designed to tackle bottlenecks in logistics and to prevent unnecessary delays. The system has since become common practice within most sectors of maritime transport: containers, general cargo, dry and wet bulk. In these sectors, market parties supply the pre-notification as a standard, using the document number of their customs declaration, the booking number of the shipping company and the transport identification of the carrier. Subsequently, the terminal can read in the system whether goods that are in transit can enter or leave the grounds.

Seeking consensus
The PCS has already proven its value for the port community – also for Customs, underlines customs officer Wim de Viet (on the left in the picture). “Our service has joined the innovative vision that the large terminals within the Rotterdam Port region were unfolding at the time. An automated system such as this opened up the way towards working without a point of access and without having to handle customs formalities there and then. After all, the terminal received the declaration and a notification of consignments before they arrived at the port. Not only did the business community benefit from this, we too benefited. Whereas otherwise we would have had to deploy hundreds of employees to process declarations in those enormous grounds, we were now able to handle things 24/7 with a couple of dozen colleagues.”

Van Pelt: “What is unique about the Dutch situation is that we have, in fact, tied the entire logistics chain to us through one digital portal. And it is clear to all those parties: this is how you have to work, there’s no other way. So now they provide the same data – once, because they can simply be reused. The fact that we have achieved this is mainly thanks to our national strength: seeking consensus – sitting down together and looking at how you can tackle a problem. We certainly would not have succeeded without Customs at the table. You need a service that recognises the simplification in the law, that trusts the system and that wants to apply smart monitoring.”

Concerns about importers and exporters
Many players in roll-on/roll-off transport to and from the UK will probably have to get used to the PCS. Van Pelt: “Back then, the system was built with a view to the container sector and in the case of ferry traffic, you’re dealing with another loading unit, namely trailers. It looks the same, but it’s not. The processing times are very different, you see. When a container is unloaded at the quay, it can take up to a day before it is picked up; in the case of a ferry, all trucks and trailers arrive simultaneously and shortly thereafter, everyone wants to get on board or off the ground at the same time. There is, in fact, hardly any time to do the declaration and pre-notification in an orderly fashion.”

As stated earlier, the Dutch ferry terminals have nevertheless made the use of the PCS compulsory for their customers, mainly road carriers. “We are not overly concerned about these carriers, because more than three-quarters of them are now using our system”, Van Pelt explains. “It’s mainly their clients who cause us headaches: the importers and exporters, of which there are hundreds of thousands in the Netherlands and the European hinterland. It all starts with them; they must ensure that their import or export declaration is in order – whether they do this themselves or outsource it – and give a pre-notification via Portbase, otherwise the truck can’t enter or leave the terminal. In short, chain dependency is enormous.”

Get Ready for Brexit
“Together, we do everything we can to reach out to that huge and very diverse target group and point out their responsibilities to them,” De Viet explains. “Portbase and Customs recently organised information meetings with numerous public and private partners to tell market players what is required of them and what they need for this. In addition, our service has repeatedly written letters to tens of thousands of Dutch entrepreneurs who do business with the UK to explain this to them.”

“The message from Portbase to the business community is short and to the point: Get Ready for Brexit and join the PCS”, Van Pelt says. “There are two ways to go about this: by logging in to the web variant or by means of a system link. However, companies must register with us first. We charge new customers a one-off fee of 249 Euros to join, which buys them a lot of convenience in return. Compare it to the online check-in option before for a flight – that prevents a lot of hassle at the airport. We ensure that carriers can enter or leave the ferry terminal without any problems. Drivers can check in advance whether the barrier will be raised so to say and, in principle, do not have to leave their vehicles to report to Customs and complete the necessary formalities. This way, we keep things flowing.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot automate the entire declaration process as yet,” De Viet concludes. “An intervention by Customs will still be needed in the case of an ATA Carnet or a TIR Carnet. Those are the types of cases for which we’re at the terminal, so that we can support the ferry company. If everything goes well, the cargo side of the process will run smoothly from the outset, as has been the case with container terminals for years. This means that our on-site colleagues can focus almost exclusively on checking passenger luggage, passenger cars and freight shipments selected on the basis of risk analysis.”

* Portbase is a subsidiary of the Port of Rotterdam Authority and the Port of Amsterdam, which are both shareholders. The organisation is by and for the Dutch port community and operates on a non-profit basis.

Portbase created a 4-minute animation video, ‘Get Ready for Brexit: this is how you clear the Dutch ports quickly’, that explains the Port Community System. Click here to watch the video.

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