Optiport Kotug - Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe

There’s no time to wait for the future, so roll up your sleeves. The Rotterdam company, Kotug, is busy developing innovations to make sailing in the port safer, more efficient and cleaner. Such as a new planning software that ensures the right (tug) boat is automatically sailing the shortest route at the correct speed, thereby saving fuel. Patrick Everts, General Manager of Kotug's Maritime Excellence Center, talks about opportunities and innovation in his Rotterdam testing ground.

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Kotug has long been a tugboat company. But in recent years it has developed into a one-stop shop: supervising the construction of (tug)boats, advising on boats and the design of a port, operating boats, training crews and financing. The company has always been innovative.

Everts: 'It's in our DNA to act quickly when there are developments. And often, to also anticipate or initiate those developments. One of the innovations we are most proud of is the E-Kotug, the hybrid tugboat with which we were the first in the world to enter into Class. Companies are looking for solutions that can meet stricter environmental requirements. Kotug offers sustainable solutions that facilitate the transition to a CO2-neutral and digital port.’

OptiPort - Planning autonomous shipping

The company is working on various projects in which technology is being developed to enable smart, safe and cleaner sailing. One of the products Kotug has developed is OptiPort. Everts: 'We have set up a project in close collaboration with our local partner Captain AI. This involves working on the autonomous sailing of the tugboat RT Borkum by combining the route planner and autonomous sailing module from Captain AI and the planning software from OptiPort. This software allows us to better schedule fully autonomous tugboats, but also other vessels, in ports. It makes it possible to determine the shortest route in combination with the optimal sailing speed. This leads to considerable fuel savings. It enable us to contribute to cleaner and more efficient operations throughout the maritime world.’ According to Everts, utilising OptiPort can save a total of 25 to 40% in operational costs.

‘OptiPort was originally built for tugboats, but we are now seeing that it can also be applied to other types of boats, including inland vessels, enabling us, for example, to make entire ports more efficient,' says Everts.  'This project also makes a difference when it comes to the efficient operation of a shipping company. If a shipping company has autonomous boats, but no one knows where they have to go, they will still need people to manually plan the boat movements. That is precisely where the inefficiency lies; the wrong boats being scheduled incorrectly. We solve this problem with OptiPort: a platform that ensures that autonomous boats in a harbour will arrive at their destination at the right time and at the right speed.’ The planning software is also fully scalable according to Everts, enabling complete planning of a port. Everts also closely monitors developments in the field of alternative fuels for ships. 'But the real beauty of OptiPort is that something can be done right away to make ships sail more sustainably, with no expensive investments and no hardware having to be purchased.’ In this way, Kotug is making a direct and immediate contribution to reducing emissions.

Citybarge - Sustainable logistics in inland waterways

Another project in which Kotug is participating is CityBarge. CityBarge is an urban logistics concept, born out of the ambition to improve the quality of life in cities by using existing inner-city canals for the distribution of, for example, (industrial) waste and building materials. Everts: 'An electric pusher boat, in combination with a barge and a system of mini-hubs, ensures that logistics flows in the city centre can be transferred from the road to the water. We are now also looking at the possibilities of water connections between cities. Waterborne transport offers a sustainable alternative to road haulage. The CityBarge concept is a breakthrough when it comes to 'middle mile' transportation, which to this day, is still largely done by road. This causes CO2 emissions and congested roads in the city centre. The first CityBarge, the CityBarge One, has been sailing since last summer.’

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If we want to test something, we make a call

Everts: 'Collaborations with parties in the field of innovation are easy to find in Rotterdam, such as Captain AI. Historically, we have been involved in many Rotterdam initiatives, either directly or indirectly port-related.’ In addition, parties know they can easily contact Kotug because, according to Everts, the company is always open to sharing innovations. 'There is simply a lot of knowledge and enterprising spirit around here. The Erasmus University Rotterdam, PortXL, TU Delft and Smart Port are all nearby. The city and region has always been, and still is, a global maritime hotspot. Rotterdam has a large port where all the port-related processes converge.’

The city on the Maas is home to the most complete and competitive maritime network in the world. It's the place-to-be for maritime companies and investors who want to grow, innovate and lead the way in the circular economy, energy transition and digitalisation, because everything is present and close by. Rotterdam is also at the centre of all of Kotug's operations around the world, including North America, South America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 'We are at the epicentre of our own business.’ Everts also commends the Rotterdam mentality of simply trying new things and seeing how they work out. 'Rotterdam-based companies are very willing to get involved in new projects. Hence, the many different parties in Rotterdam who are working on smart shipping (largely automated sailing at sea and on inland waterways, ed.).’ Kotug also has short lines of communication with the Port Authority. 'If we want to test something, we make a phone call and it's sorted.’ Everts has also noticed that the discussion about wanting to be the largest port is changing into wanting to be the smartest, and that stimulates us to innovate even more. According to Everts, it's important that Rotterdam keeps its focus on a strong culture of innovation and cooperation.