Security at the Port of Rotterdam

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up thinking that port security has to do with worker access control and long-range thermal cameras to spot threats. Sometimes, it's more about compliance with the IMO (International Maritime Organization) and dealing with...


Sometimes it's easy to get caught up thinking that port security has to do with worker access control and long-range thermal cameras to spot threats. Sometimes, it's more about compliance with the IMO (International Maritime Organization) and dealing with public safety issues like fires and toxic spills in the case of chemical facilities attached to port shipping operations.

Today, as part of a trip to Holland hosted by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, I spent many hours in and around the Port of Rotterdam. For those of you who aren't familiar with Europe's shipping business, all you really need to know is that the Port of Rotterdam is Europe's largest and busiest port. It deals with roughly 12 million cargo containers in a years time, which is just part of an estimated 400 million tons of goods which come through the port in a year's time. The port allows easy distribution to all parts of Europe, using ground-based transportation, for imported goods which arrive at its docks.

Port of Rotterdam, view towards the sea from Euromast Tower. Photo by G. Kohl.

When they say this is a big port, they mean it. As evidence in the photo above, the port extends 32 miles along the banks of a river which drains Switzerland, and it has many, many additional and parallel waterways. To ride a fairly quick boat (not a speedboat, mind you) from port headquarters to some of the outlying docks and facilities will take you well over an hour each way. That spread of the port, plus the high number of operators, vessels (sometimes a thousand docked here in a day's time), workers and materials arriving and departing make for one heck of a port security headache, but the Dutch seem to be handling the challenge well.

So, here are seven things they've done that are admirable:

Port of Rotterdam Chief Harbor Master J.C. Lems

1. Chief Harbormaster J.C. Lems (pictured above) is the de facto security chief, and thereby has to comply with maritime security regulations. Much of that also means setting his own strict security policies for the port, ranging from banning jetskis to requiring arriving vessels contact the port authority office at least one day before arrival.

Vessel tracking at the Port of Rotterdam

2. Tracking and analyzing all vessels. The massive screens at the Port of Rotterdam Command and Control center identify the type of vessel, whether it's docked or en route, whether it has materials that would be considered hazardous or suspicious, and even whether a certified pilot is aboard the vessel. A close up (photo above) shows how different colors and symbols reflect different ship statuses and cargo risks.

Dr. Ben Janssen manages the Unified Fire Department

3. They've developed one hell of a fire-fighting solution for everyone in the port environment -- from ships to facilities. The Gezarmenlijke Brandweer Unified Fire Department has unbelievable equipment and skills. It's a public/private partnership for fire protection services, paid for mainly by companies doing business at the port, but also by the government. The unified team -- which originally brought together 42 separate industrial fire brigades when it was founded in 1998 -- is well-practiced, having to deal with approximately 600 fires per year. One of the GB Unified Fire Department's core strengths is that it can successfully fight fires at the massive land-based chemical/oil storage tanks that surround the port. According to Dr. Ben M.G. Janssen, this capability is unique among the world's fire departments (but the equipment to do so is also incredibly expensive!).

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