Maritime Economics & Logistics

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 559–575 | Cite as

Practical approaches to chemical tanker scheduling in ports: a case study on the Port of Houston

  • Burak Cankaya
  • Ezra Wari
  • Berna Eren TokgozEmail author
Original Article


The objective of this study was to develop practical scheduling solutions for chemical tankers visiting the Port of Houston (PoH). Chemical tanker movements represent approximately 42% of the Houston Ship Channel traffic. Historically, chemical tanker scheduling has been problematic and has resulted in long waiting times for tankers. Scheduling is difficult because chemical tankers carry several liquid cargoes and must visit multiple terminals for loading and unloading. Physical constraints (layout of the port and draft) and commercial constrains (such as terminal and personnel readiness for cargo handling operations, tank cleaning processes, and inspection requirements) create a complex scheduling problem, long waiting times, and unnecessary tanker movements in the port. These problems cause an increase in the business costs for shipowners, risk of collisions and allisions, production of additional air emissions, and decreases in the operating capacity of terminals. The recent expansion decisions for chemical and petrochemical plants in Houston, Texas, will exacerbate the problem. Significant benefits could thus be gained even for small scheduling improvements. Currently, the scheduling practice of loading/unloading activities in the PoH involves primarily the manual and de-centralized use of the “first come, first served” (FCFS) rule, which results in inefficiencies such as long waiting times and poor resource utilization. We propose two mathematical methods to address the tanker scheduling problem in the port: a mixed-integer programming (MIP) method, and a constraint programming (CP) method. The two methods are formulated as open-shop scheduling problems with sequence-dependent post-setup times. MIP yields optimum results that minimize makespan. However, computation time increases significantly as the number of tankers, or the number of terminals, increases. CP achieves better makespan results in a shorter run time, compared to MIP, for medium to large-scale problems including the problem considered in this case study. Overall, the results show that MIP is more suitable for real-time scheduling tools (hourly and daily), whereas CP is the better option for longer-horizon scheduling problems (weekly or monthly). Our models gave good alternative schedules under short optimization run times. Hence, they can afford decision makers sufficient time to complete multiple optimization scenarios and implementation setups.


Berth allocation problem CP MIP Sequence-dependent setup Ship scheduling 



This study was partially funded by the Center for Advances in Port Management, Lamar University, Beaumont, TX, USA. Authors greatly appreciate port agent J. J. Plunkett of the Houston Pilot Association for providing the data for this study and for reviewing the paper. Authors would also like to thank shipping agent Darren Shelton for reviewing and making comments on chemical tanker operations. Finally, the authors are grateful to the anonymous MEL reviewers and editor-in-chief for their constructive comments and careful attention to the paper which enhanced its quality.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Technology ManagementEmbry-Riddle Aeronautical University WorldwideDaytona BeachUSA
  2. 2.Department of Industrial Engineering, College of EngineeringLamar UniversityBeaumontUSA

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