Resilience in seaports: dealing with turbulent environments

Date: 9 September 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus, Promotiezaal Grauwzusters - Lange SInt-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerp (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 2:30 PM

PhD candidate: Indra Vonck

Principal investigator: Prof Theo Notteboom

Co-principal investigator: Prof Michaƫl Dooms (VUB)

Short description: PhD defence Indra Vonck - Faculty of Applied Economics


This study explores the concept of resilience in seaport-related research. We build upon the notion of resilience based on the literature and construct an integrated framework of port resilience encompassing all layers. We start by outlining the specific need for resilience in ports based on the surrounding uncertainties, both endogenous and exogenous. These uncertainties can create shocks and disruptions that can impact vulnerable ports. To assess resilience, one must first know what these vulnerabilities are. We therefore construct a vulnerability index in chapter two of this thesis, providing an overview and benchmark structure of possible shocks and parameters that can amplify or reduce these shocks. To offer a comparable base for analysis, we introduce a framework in the third chapter of the thesis that allows for a comparison between either a set of similar shocks over time, or one shock across different ports. Another framework is also introduced to explain the various sources of port resilience. Chapter four then delves deeper into the factors influencing the strategic resilience of ports, which can be managed by the Port Authorities. Chapter five investigates resilience on a more external level and calculates the redundancy/optionality generated by ports in a range that reflects either complementary or possible substitutions. Finally, chapter six introduces the theory of Panarchy into port research, a framework that provides potential explanations for the bottom–up and top–down trends affecting seaport development.

The applied techniques are as follows, in order of appearance: (1) the construction of a composite index based on a literature study and expert interviews, allowing for benchmarking and scenario analysis; (2) the development of a new quantitative shock response benchmarking tool, based on the regional resilience literature; (3) the development of a descriptive framework based on a literature review of the cluster- and organizational resilience literature and tested with a structural analysis and qualitative review; (4) an in-depth network analysis of the HLH range based on structural land use parameters; and (5) the introduction of a new theorem based on the life cycle literature and complemented with managerial literature applications.

Our research reinforces the promising development of resilience research in the seaport literature. We demonstrate a clear link between latitude and vulnerability based on a fairly national clustered vulnerability index result. Our empirical findings propose that certain forms of collaboration could decrease vulnerability and positively influence resilience. We discovered that many ports in Europe did not show any shock to the 2007–2008 economic crisis, depending on the underlying cargo groups and industry drivers present in the port. In addition, the most resistive ports were also the quickest to recover. We found that strategic port resilience is a function of activity allocation decision effects, aggregate activity resilience, and the structural properties of the port cluster. The assessment of redundancy/optionality generated by similar ports within the HLH range for Antwerp showed that organic development is the best explanation for specialization and diversification. Finally, we found sufficient matching cases to link the Panarchy theorem to ports and apply additional management techniques to cope with the resulting life cycle analysis.