Digitalization needed to save maritime industry according to IMO and MPA

Aerial top view of container cargo ship in the export and import business and logistics international goods in urban city. Shipping to the harbor by crane in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong City at night.

Big data, digitalization and the utilisation of exponential technologies are more important now than ever as the maritime industry recovers from the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This was the opinion of both the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the MPA’s first ‘Maritime Perspectives Series Prologue: Digital Connectivity and Data Standards’ webinar on 28 July 2020.  

Speaking during the webinar IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim said the pandemic demonstrated how important the maritime industry was to the global economy and community, but that a new way of thinking was needed to help it recover. 

“It is crucially important to ensure the functioning of the global supply chains and the facilitation of safe and efficient operations of maritime transport,” Lim said. 

“In these difficult times, the ability of shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and food, is central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic.” 

IMO Headquarters, London

Ports and terminals across the world have been severely affected the pandemic, with most seeing slumps in trade throughout 2020, as well as borders being closed and seafarers being left stranded.  

In addition, the knock-on effects have seen congestion after China’s factories began to reopen, leaving some ports unable to process or even store the cargo coming through its gates.  

It has been suggested by some that technologies such as blockchain could be used to solve this problem as it could streamline the customs process.  

“Digitalization, big data, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence are key in enabling the post-COVID recovery and taking shipping into this new era,” Lim said.  

“Increased data collection, processing and interconnectivity capabilities, enable automated systems to be controlled remotely or through artificial intelligence.  

“Increased automation in shipping has the potential to enhance safety, to improve environmental performance, and to enable more cost-effective shipping. 

“IMO is working to ensure shipping can embrace the digital revolution – while ensuring safety, environmental protection as well as cyber security.  

“Digitalisation and new technologies will also be the key to allowing standardisation and therefore enhancing the efficiency of shipping.” 

Furthermore, Lim said greater cooperation was just as important to helping the industry meet the challenges throughout and post-pandemic.  

Shippers, ports and logistics stakeholders working together will be “vital for enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of shipping and therefore facilitating trade and fostering economic recovery and prosperity,” according to Lim. 

This support for new technologies and collaboration was shared by MPA chairman Niam Chiang Meng, who said it was vital the industry doesn’t lose its focus on environmental protection as it emerges from the crisis.  

The Port of Singapore

As we focus our efforts for recovery amidst the headwinds caused by the pandemic,” Chaing said, “we should not lose sight of our broader goals in digitalisation and decarbonation.  

“We will need to accelerate our digitalisation efforts and push harder on our decarbonisation drive, to better equip ourselves for the new normal.” 

Prior to the crisis there had already been progress on the question of how ports, carriers and other stakeholders can share and standardise data.  

This is seen by many in the industry as vital for long term growth, with the formation of several cross-industry groups and passing of international regulation.  

“In the area of digitalisation, even before COVID-19, there was already growing international consensus on the importance of common data standards to ensure that systems are interoperable,” Chiang insisted.  

Chiang said the MPA itself had strived to continue this work and in late-July signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to “bring together international partners to collaborate on interoperability”. 

The MPA in this regard is working closely to bring together other partners to create a seamless platform for sharing data, connecting systems across the world, turning what it calls ‘data lakes’ into an interlinked ‘digital ocean’. 

“This vision of seamless interoperability is what pushes Singapore to galvanise like-minded partners including international port authorities, platform providers and ports to work together,” according to Chiang.  

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