IMO and Singapore to give ‘special attention’ to developing ports in data digitalisation pilot

Container cargo ship carrying container for business freight import and export, Aerial view container ship arriving in commercial port.

Ports in Africa, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will receive “special attention” in digitalisation as the shipping industry opens its call for a shared window of data exchange.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) issued a call in March in partnership with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore for medium-sized ports to apply for a pilot to establish digital exchange system for information in ports.

Since April 2019, contracting governments to the IMO are required by the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention) to set up electronic information exchange to support clearance processes in ports.

The FAL Convention recommends a “maritime single window” (MSW) approach as an effective way of delivering this requirement.

The IMO and Singapore believes the MSW approach addresses the overall administrative burden on shipping by sharing information including shipping schedules or carbon emissions digitally.

The SW could become mandatory of the convention from 2024. However, the industry is concerned that less economically developed ports may fall behind of industry-wide growth in data exchange.

Julian Abril, Head of IMO’s Facilitation Section, and Koh Chin Yong, Chief Information Officer and Deputy Director (IT) of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, will be contributors to the Single Window for Facilitation of Trade (SWiFT) Project.

Why medium?

The pilot is calling specifically for medium-sized ports to apply for the pilot, which reaches its deadline on 31 May 2021.

Abril told PTI the requirements of a MSW system for a medium-sized port are likely to be “more complex” than those for smaller ports. In the case of small ports, the source code for the system that was tested in Antigua and Barbuda will now be made available to other countries who need it.

“The requirements of an MSW system for a medium-size port would be different and more complex although may not be as complex as for a busy, large size port,” explained Abril.

“For this new initiative, Singapore’s expertise in building and operating its national MSW could benefit Member States with bigger ports and more complex requirements.”

Singapore will support the IMO member states in their digitalisation journeys, and added that selecting a medium-sized port will allow the IMO and Singapore to gain experience in the scaling up of digitalised data transfer to larger ports.

“As some countries may be constrained by the heavy resource demands of implementing MSWs, Singapore hopes that the SWiFT Project can encourage the pilot country to embark on its digitalisation journey and unlock the potential of its maritime sector,” Koh said.

In addition, Koh said that the challenges smaller ports may face could include change management, cybersecurity, and data security risks.

“Given the interconnectedness of the global supply chain, it is only when most – if not all – ports undergo digital transformation that the gains of digitalisation can be realised collectively by the international maritime community.”

The pilot

The selection of the pilot country will hinge on the country’s eligibility for the IMO Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP).

Additional criteria include the IT baseline situation of the recipient country, the level of political commitment to prioritize matters related to the FAL Convention and a strong policy agenda on maritime transport, Abril outlined.

“The ITCP is crucial for assisting developing countries to implement IMO instruments for safer and more secure shipping, enhanced environmental protection and facilitation of international maritime traffic.

“In so doing, special attention is given to the particular needs of Africa, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – and this ethos will be echoed in our selection of a port for the SWiFT programme,” he said.

The Maritime Port Authority of Singapore will provide software to the pilot country to implement the MSW with the possibility of minor customisation, Koh explained.

“The MSW software will establish the single window port clearance process and introduce a unified dashboard to reflect the status of process clearance for participating stakeholders,” he added.

The pilot country will have to provide a server hosting environment to operate and support the maritime single window software, either on an on-premise data centre, in a cloud computing environment, or a hybrid platform.

If the port does not possess the necessary digital infrastructure, Singapore “can recommend a cloud hosting environment” for the pilot country to consider, Koh said.

What success looks like

Abril told PTI Singapore’s expertise in single window data sharing through its own digitalPORT@SG platform “will be key” to support the recipient country’s own experience.

“Success will also mean that we can replicate the pilot project in more Member States once the pilot is completed and that more donor countries would come forward to help scale-up this pilot project,” he said.

Koh said from Singapore’s perspective, the eventual goal for the pilot is to “lay the foundation” for the SWiFT Project to scale up and benefit more IMO Member States.

“Ultimately, success means that more ports are embarked on this voyage together of building resilience and sustainability into their maritime supply chains, which in turn strengthens the global supply chain,” he said.

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